Two unrelated stories hit my in-tray this week. It did not take much imagination to see how they are connected. Migration growth and the medium density zoning. Join the dots.
The first story outlined how the new state gov planning code was going to fast-track medium density zoning approvals throughout the state. Councils were being told that the approval turn around for medium density applications had to come down to 20 days. Byron Council, take a bow. Three months is usually the expected turnaround in our beloved shire.
As it happens, Byron, Ballina and Tweed shires have excluded themselves from this edict to do a stack more medium density zoning. They have one year to modify their LEP if they wish to dodge it. It also provides a pass to councils not wanting to do any community consultation. How these three coastal shires, with the most to lose, and the most demand, with unfettered unit development, will respond in the future is yet to be worked out.
The other story was how could the statisticians get it so wrong. During Peter Costello’s era of being treasurer in 1998, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) predicted that Australia’s population would grow to 23.5 million people. Yes, that’s fine but not till 2051. We are now at 25 million and that is over 30 years ahead of schedule. Only a part of this growth was to be due to migration growth.
Social researcher and demographer Mark McCrindle says that this isn’t because the calculations were wrong, but that “migration policy changes, longevity increases, and a solid birth rate have defied the trends that were evident 20 years ago.” Migration was expected to remain a constant at 90,000 a year. It now sits at around 240,000 new migrants per annum. The birth rate was assumed to drop but actually increased. Life expectancy was forecast to remain relatively constant but has also increased.
So what we have is a situation where we have far too many people for too few houses. The government is desperately trying to play catch up. One way is to push through higher density development as quickly as possible, especially in the high demand areas like big cities and major regional towns.
The conclusion is that at least we are now having a proper conversation about migration levels and housing. State and federal governments are on notice that they cannot keep increasing migration levels, cashing the cheque on easy growth, without improving infrastructure and amenities for citizens. The only other silver lining with growth is that this level of property demand makes the possibility of a property bubble bursting highly unlikely. Although you never know, the politicians will have a good chance of stuffing that up too.