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Displaying items by tag: medium density housing

In December, just as we were looking forward to a peaceful holiday break, the NSW government released plans for new policies aimed at increasing housing density to cater for the massive increase in demand brought about by recent and projected high levels of immigration. We all understand the need to boost housing supply in the right areas to avoid adding to the existing suburban sprawl but the way the government is going about it is totally unacceptable.

The explanatory document, the Explanation of Intended Effects: Changes to Create Low- and Mid-rise Housing (the EIE), makes some grandiose statements. It claims that:

The changes will give NSW households more choice and promote vibrant, sustainable and liveable communities …. Our longer term aim is to enable better planning that is led locally.

This all plain spin.

The reality is that a new planning system is being imposed without opportunities for local input. Council local environment plans (LEPs) and controls will be overridden by ‘non-refusal standards’ determined on a one-size-fits-all basis.

The headline description of the new housing typology is that they will be well-located and well-designed. However, the standards in most of the redevelopments will create housing that leaves only room for a small or medium size tree in a small garden. Existing mature tree canopy will be severely reduced so all the government rhetoric about creating ‘liveable’ communities in the face of climate change will become meaningless. These mature trees and their environmental benefits cannot be replaced.

The EIE applies to the Six Cities Region that covers the Illawarra, Blue Mountains, Sydney and Newcastle and lower Hunter with the exception of dual occupancy provisions that apply to the whole state.

Transport Oriented Development (TOD)

Another announcement was made in December that has potentially drastic implications for the established suburbs of Gordon, Killara, Lindfield and Roseville. No consultation with the public is to occur and Ku-ring-gai Council has had limited opportunity to have their say to the Department of Planning. This development standard is to be implemented from 1 April. More detail is further on in this article.

When will this all happen?

First of all the government has to finalise the new State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP) that governs the implementation of the policy. The intended effective date is mid-2024. So time is tight.

The government did invite feedback from the public, councils and stakeholder bodies. This is currently being considered and a response will be published. Whether they will modify the policy to recognise the outpouring of criticism remains to be seen.

The intention is to ‘fast-track’ the new housing plans so it is likely that the problematic complying development process with private certifiers will be used. In 2022 only 48,000 new homes were completed in NSW. The goal of this new policy is to build 75,000 new homes over each of the next 5 years in accordance with the new housing accord agreed between the states and federal governments.

How will it happen?

That is the big question that will determine whether the intended large increase in the number of dwellings does actually occur. It appears that developers will be knocking on doors with generous offers to buy people’s houses. Alternatively landowners will put their place on the market. The take-up response is unknown so the outcome is unpredictable.

The normal process is for councils to be given new housing targets over a wide time frame and they then carry out strategic analysis and community consultation to identify where the increases should occur by rezoning areas for higher density housing development. Controls are defined taking into account local conditions such as existing infrastructure, topography, local character and heritage, biodiversity protection and bushfire risk. They aim to avoid issues like overshadowing and increased stormwater flood risk. This provides certainty for all parties that enabled long-term planning.

Non-refusal standards

This time the state government proposes new ‘non-refusal’ standards – if types of development are compliant with such a standard, they cannot be refused. As these are to be implemented under a SEPP, they can overrule LEPs or Development Control Plans. These standards are outlined in the EIE.

In recent budget estimates hearings the Minister for Planning claimed that councils will retain their powers to control development. Yes okay, but only if the council controls are similar to or more permissive than the non-refusal standards in terms of the housing outcomes. This is obviously unlikely.

The implementation of the EIE is undermining the government’s own existing statutory strategic planning framework that coordinates new housing plans. The government is working on new regional and district plans to be released in 2024 that should inform local council plans. In June 2023 the government abolished the Greater Cities Commission that had the role of determining these plans. This function has been brought back to the Department of Planning. So currently we do not have a holistic plan allocating when and where the increased housing numbers should go together with the associated infrastructure needs.

Higher density standards

There are three types of higher density housing that are to be implemented:

  • dual occupancy in R2 (low density) residential areas
  • low-rise housing in R2 zones within 800 m of railway stations and local centres
  • mid-rise housing in R3 (medium density) zones within 400 m of railway stations and local centres

1.     Dual occupancy in all low density (R2) zones in the whole of NSW

This change may have the most significant impact in the character of our cities and towns. Currently many councils do not allow dual occupancy in R2 zones. This includes Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai. If this option is taken up by many landowners then the tree canopy cover of all our suburban areas will reduce significantly.

Under the non-refusal standards, any block that is at least 450 m2 could be converted to dual occupancy. Another house can be added to the existing one on the block or an existing house can be knocked down and replaced with two houses. Larger blocks that are common in northern Sydney of over 900 m2could be sub-divided into two blocks and then two dual occupancies could be built – four houses in all. Currently the local trend is to knock down established houses and replace them with a much bigger single house. Will this trend continue as well?

In either case established tall trees and gardens are being cleared and replaced with smaller trees and hedges that will be of limited value for cooling the environment and providing habitat for wildlife. The EIE prescribes a minimum number of trees be planted depending on the size of the block but they only need to be a small tree (5 to 8 m – bottlebrush size) for a medium size block and medium tree (8 to 12 m – jacaranda size) for a larger block of over 600 m2.

2.     Low-rise housing close to local centres

Low-rise housing as defined in the EIE is to be permitted in R2 zones within 800 m of railway stations and local centres (zoned E1). The definition of local centre is up for discussion. It is intended to apply to places with a good range of services such as a full-sized supermarket and restaurants. In our area it would apply to St Ives. It is also intended to apply to centres with good access to public transport. St Ives has poor public transport and frequent traffic congestion.

Low-rise housing will include:

  • manor houses – two-storey flat building – can be four or more flats depending on land area
  • terraces – row of dwellings
  • townhouses or villas – multi dwelling housing


Manor houses



The specifications for maximum floor space ratio and minimum site area will mean that the space remaining for gardens and trees will be very limited. The minimum tree canopy target for larger blocks is 30% assuming the trees will reach maturity compared with the current guideline of 40%.

The greater density will increase the need for car access. This means more driveways with less space for street trees.

It appears that sub-division will be encouraged so that the normal sized lot in the northern Sydney area could be sub-divided and replaced with two or three low-rise developments.

3.     Mid-rise housing

Mid-rise housing is to be permitted in E1 (local centres) and R3 (medium density) zones within 800 m of railway stations and local centres. This is defined at residential flat buildings or shop-top housing. The maximum height allows for building up to six to seven storeys (maximum height 21 m) within 400 m of the station or town centre and up to four to five storeys (maximum height 16 m) in the 400 to 800 m radius.

Developers can add extra floor space if affordable housing is included. If 10 to 15% of the gross floor area is allocated to affordable housing then the height can be increased by 20 to 30% respectively. This means a six to seven storey building can be increased to eight to nine storeys.

mid rise

Mid-rise housing

Transport oriented development

Four station areas, Gordon, Killara, Lindfield and Roseville have been identified as places appropriate for Transport Oriented Development (TOD); 31 areas in total have been identified for the TOD in the Six Cities Region. This Imposes mid-rise housing (six to seven storeys) within 400 m of these stations to be applied to all residential areas. Some of these areas already have higher rise development but the majority of areas are low density. Not only that, but 40% of these areas have a concentration of heritage housing.

The minister claims that the non-refusal standards can be avoided if Ku-ring-gai Council does their own strategic assessment and works out planning controls that will enable the new housing numbers to be accommodated before the TOD requirements are implemented. But they come into effect on 1 April and the government advice on the expectation of new dwellings has not been provided.

The government proposals have been roundly condemned

There is a long list of problems with the government’s denser housing proposals. Ku-ring-gai Council’s website contains their lengthy detailed submissions. On 3 February an extraordinary meeting passed a resolution that:

  • Condemns the State Government for its irresponsible approach to planning for the future of the built and natural environment in
  • Rejects the proposed changes to planning controls and demands that they be withdrawn with genuine consultation to be undertaken with councils and their communities, as intended by the National Housing Accord 2022.

Brief summary of issues

The proposals basically do not conform with the Environment Planning and Assessment Act and the principles of ecologically sustainable development.

Ku-ring-gai Council’s analysis of the higher-density development configurations for mid-rise housing shows do not even conform with the government’s own SEPP 65 Design Quality of Residential Apartment Development.

Government claims that there will continue to be opportunity for genuine merit assessment of developments, taking into account local character, biodiversity and heritage matters are meaningless. As currently announced the two SEPPs will apply a top-down one-size-fits-all approach.

The landscaping and building parameters prescribed in the non-refusal standards are not suitable for established suburbs. The planning system must continue to allow the consideration of issues such as consistency with existing built form, tree canopy targets, topography, bushfire risk with the need for asset protection zones and stormwater management.

As announced, development types will be determined by the developer resulting in a mishmash of housing styles throughout Sydney particularly in the areas near stations and local centres.

The mid-rise development of up to seven storeys near railway stations along the Pacific Highway from Roseville through to Wahroonga is very concerning. This will create a wide strip of development about 1 km wide that will be a barrier for wildlife movement between north to south bushland. The land falls away sharply on the southern side of the highway where the impact of the ridge barrier will be emphasised. These areas retain the seedbank and soils that are essential for the survival of the last remaining areas of remnant critically endangered forests.

Councils must be able to limit the amount of clearing on properties when additional dwellings are added so that mature trees are retained. The blanket dual occupancy approval provisions must not proceed.

The two proposals for ‘transport-oriented development’ and ‘low and mid-rise housing’ together endanger more than 4,000 heritage properties (items and sites within heritage conservation areas).

Published in STEP Matters 224
Friday, 17 February 2017 23:02

South Dural Development Stopped … For Now

We've previously summarised our concerns about the application to rezone rural land to residential land. It is a relief that Hornsby Council has decided to discontinue evaluation of the proposal. But this is only until an infrastructure and funding plan is in place for this and other developments in this rural area.

Over 5,000 submissions were made opposing the development, many for reasons other than congestion along New Line Road and lack of other infrastructure. There will be more opposition to come when the developer has another go. With any luck the proposal will be deemed inconsistent with the North District Plan that aims to retain rural land.

Published in STEP Matters 189
Tuesday, 06 December 2016 16:18

South Dural Rezoning Proposal is Alarming

South Dural Residents and Ratepayers Group, a developer initiated lobby group, has made numerous applications since 1990 to Hornsby Council for the rezoning of 240 ha of rural lands in south Dural for urban purposes. The latest attempt is currently under consideration. Click here for details of the history of the lobbying

In the latest attempt, consultants’ reports have been commissioned as part of the first step of the application, that is, to change the zoning from rural to various levels of residential density and recreational zoning. Submissions closed on 2 December.

The spine of the proposed development is an area of bushland along Georges Creek and another unnamed tributary of Berowra Creek. Indeed the developer is touting the natural views and the tall forest as a feature that will allow six storey apartments to fit into an ‘eco-friendly’ community. All in all the proposal is for 2,900 dwellings that could house 9,000 people.

The bushland is of high conservation value with areas of Blue Gum High Forest (10.5 ha), Sydney Turpentine Ironbark Forest (22 ha), Blackbutt Gully Forest (30 ha) and Shale Sandstone Transition Forest (1.4 ha). The first two listed are classified as critically endangered ecological communities under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.

As the opposing residents’ group, the Galston Area Residents Association, points out there are many reasons to oppose the application, for example:

  • it is inconsistent with the metropolitan plan to preserve remaining rural land
  • current roads cannot cope with current traffic let alone that generated by the extra residents
  • public transport is inadequate and the north west rail line is a long way away so buses will have to operate on clogged roads
  • there is insufficient provision for schools, shops, recreation areas and other basic infrastructure

STEP opposes the rezoning application for three main reasons:

1. Inadequate vegetation data and mapping

The bushland area comprises about 64 ha, a quarter of the site. As large parts of the land are privately owned it has not been possible to carry out on the ground vegetation mapping. This applies in particular to the area of Blue Gum High Forest of about 10 ha. This is in the context of the total area of Blue Gum High Forest remaining in Sydney of less than 200 ha. Other areas of significant vegetation have not been sampled adequately or consistently.

It is totally unsatisfactory to be asking the public to comment on such inadequate information, especially when dealing with endangered ecological communities.

2. The proposed zoning map does not reflect the described development or the stated purpose to conserve native vegetation

The higher density six storey buildings are planned to be built closest to the bushland but they are zoned R3 (medium density). It should be zoned R4, high density residential.

There are also inconsistencies in the minimum lot sizes of 125 m2 and 225 m2 stated in different parts of the proposal documents. The prospect of lot sizes of 125 m2 is alarming! No room for trees.

Most of the riparian areas are described as having high conservation significance so should be zoned as E2. However the proposed zoning is RE1. It appears the intention is to allow a gravity feed sewer to be installed along the creek lines, hardly compatible with conservation. Construction of a sewer would need road access that would damage the natural creek line and, on past experience, create a wide band of weed invasion.

3. Large areas of the zoning proposal are deferred

The deferred areas are the main bushland strips that interface between the residential areas and the core riparian areas. They cover a significant part of the bushland. The reason given is the uncertainty of the biodiversity legislation that had not been passed when the proposal was submitted.

These deferred areas will be hard to manage because of the proximity to the housing development so government agencies will probably not want them.

An absolute tragedy would occur if they were traded for biobanking sites elsewhere as it would be impossible to find equivalent vegetation communities to be restored to offset the losses. They should become areas that are off-limits to biobanking.

The effect of this proposal on the existing vegetation will be very damaging unless very detailed precinct plans to protect it are drawn up and very active and expensive management takes place in perpetuity.

It is unsatisfactory to expect the public to comment on this proposal with incomplete and inadequate information.


Ideally STEP would like this parcel of land to remain rural, but in the event of it being rezoned for residential development STEP would like the potential impact on biodiversity reduced. Possible mechanisms for this include:

  • The RE1 zoning changed to E2 to allow better management of the biodiversity values
  • The deferred areas to be zoned E2
  • The areas zoned E2 to be managed by the local council with the provision of funding for long-term management from the developer
  • The area currently proposed for R3 (medium density) should be greatly reduced with a zoning of R2 (low density) in areas with scattered trees
  • Very limited R4 (high density) set well back from the bushland
  • The minimum lot size for dwelling houses and semi-detached houses increased well above 225 m2, preferably up to 500 m2
  • Find an alternative to gravity-fed sewers down the creeks
  • Development set further back from the areas of biodiversity constraints so that the bushland edges are not as severely impacted
  • Provision of buffering by revegetation should be considered along bushland edges
Published in STEP Matters 188

Make a Submission on Expansion of Medium Density Housing

With everyone dealing with council amalgamations, the government’s proposal to have medium density introduced as complying development seems to have escaped proper scrutiny. The government is seeking feedback on a proposal to expand the range of low rise residential development that could be undertaken as complying development (complying development can be approved by councils under a predetermined set of guidelines and neighbours do not need to be informed).

A discussion paper Options for Low Rise Medium Density Housing as Complying Development is open for public comment until 1 March 2016.

Click here for an article about this and here to have your say on-line. The closing date is 1 March 2016.


Amongst other things, the discussion paper recommends appropriate complying development standards for low rise medium density housing proposals that would result in two to ten dwellings being erected on a single lot. The discussion paper presents three built-form scenarios, depending on lot size, resulting in:

  • two dwellings (dual occupancies) on a single lot with a minimum lot size of 400 m2,
  • three to four dwellings (manor homes) on a single lot with a minimum lot size of 500 m2 (manor homes are defined as a form of housing where a single building contains four dwellings, two at ground floor level and two at first floor level), and
  • three to ten dwellings on a single lot with a minimum lot size of 600 m2 (townhouses/terraces and/or a combination of development types)

The proposed planning instrument covers all residential (single dwelling) R2 zonings, regardless of infrastructure, local environment or social needs. The only exemption appears to be areas that are currently excluded from complying development such as heritage-listed precincts and some land with special environmental conditions, e.g. bushfire-prone land and riparian zones.

The introduction of medium density into single residential zones is particularly problematic, since it has the potential to change the whole character of our suburbs. If it becomes complying development, medium density could occur in most streets and residents would have no say in the matter.

Suggested Points for Submissions

  1. The use of complying development takes away all community input with no merit-based assessment allowed for development that will significantly change local street character.
  2. The one-size-fits-all application of the proposal from the inner city to the outer suburbs and regional areas across NSW ignores variations in geography, history etc that are currently reflected in the character of our towns and suburbs.
  3. It takes planning control away from the community and councils by overriding local environment plans contrary to the government’s election promise that the opposite would happen.
  4. It ignores the principles of good strategic planning by creating ad hoc development, permitting poor quality residential development that is not integrated with planned infrastructure.
  5. There is a strong legal argument that it is contrary to the objective of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979 to promote orderly and economic development.
  6. It will be contrary to federal environmental policy that encourages the retention of vegetation to address climate change and improve tree canopy cover in our cities.
Published in Home
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 17:41

Expansion of Medium Density Housing

In the past, councils expended significant funds in formulating local environment plans with zoning locations appropriate for different areas. The particular zoning and its extent took into account the immediate and cumulative effects on local infrastructure, services, traffic, street car parking, social services and amenities. The matching development control plans gave consideration to the local character of the area, including streetscape, topography, shared views, and soils.

It now seems that the NSW Government is trying to overwrite these local powers by proposing a major expansion of medium density housing into low density housing areas. Details are provided in a discussion paper released in November 2015 called Options for Low Rise Medium Density Housing as Complying Development.

Published in STEP Matters 184

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