SO MUCH has changed since our parents’, and grandparents’, triple-fronted red-brick house on a quarter acre back in the Fifties and Sixties. We neither have the land available nor the desire to spend all weekend looking after it.
Housing styles have had to change with the times. And after a few false starts and mis-directions, 20 years ago designers and developers hit upon what has gradually turned the whole industry on its head — masterplanned housing communities. These are self-contained estates completely planned before anyone lays a brick. With infrastructure, open spaces, community buildings, shops, schools and services all built into the blueprint and the types of housing specified before a lot is even offered for sale.
The community has a cohesive style and design, where everything is laid on for a modern lifestyle and communal open spaces are ready for a game of cricket, a family barbecue or a leisurely bushwalk. Who needs a backyard?
Yet, even this concept, which is nowhere near peaking, is evolving and there’s a possible new trend around the corner, and already evident.
Across at Thornton, at North Penrith, streets of modern terrace houses could be the new wave of the future. Except that they’re a direct lift from the past. This is the 21st century version of the highly-sought Victorian terraces so popular at Paddington since the 1920s.
And a cost comparison is stunning. A terrace at Paddington these days will cost you $1.5 million. A new terrace at Thornton will cost you a third — from $450,000 to $650,000. And at Thornton you have a full sports oval in the estate, Penrith station within 10 minutes’ walk and Westfield Penrith Plaza minutes beyond that.
By and large, masterplanned estates are put onto converted bushland, and that's where potential developers can fall foul of local councils and existing landowners whose interests councils must represent. The undeveloped bush has to be rezoned by the state government.
UrbanGrowth NSW (formerly Landcom) sells the land, some of it direct to a cross-section of about 40 builders (larger ones including AVJennings, Clarendon, Edenbrae, MacDonald Jones and Masterton). ‘‘We don’t have any preferences,’’ said Richard Wood, the general manager of development for Urban Growth. ‘‘We deal openly with the public and we deal openly with the builder.’’
The bigger builders’ houseplans are set in stone with very little room to vary because they have inbuilt efficiencies of volume to keep prices down.
Why are masterplanned estates growing so rapidly in popularity?
‘‘It’s because there’s that masterplan in place,’’ Mr Wood said. ‘‘The developer is entering into a contract with the buyer that the community will have parks and shops and amenities, and the developer must deliver on that.’’
By comparison, a simple subdivision is smaller, without the design guidelines and expectations.
‘‘Edgewater will be convenient, safe and family orientated with lots of amenities. When the train line opens this area will be the business hub of the west.’’Sanjay Shetty, homebuyer
Mr Wood has been working on masterplanned estates for more than 20 years. ‘‘The first ones were similar in a lot of regards. We do our due diligence and look at the market research. The basic elements in a masterplan are a shopping centre, other retail outlets, a school and open space — both passive [park with barbecue and swing] and active [sports oval for cricket and football].
‘‘It also addresses the types and density of housing. Since the early Nineties it’s been an average of 15 dwellings per hectare. An average block of 450 square metres would have four bedrooms, double garage and a front setback of about five or six metres — room for a third car or boat.
‘‘The backyard is not as big as in the Fifties. One reason for a masterplan is to guarantee adequate open space — so you don’t need a cricket pitch in the backyard.’’
Significant changes in the last 20 years? ‘‘No, but we’ve had subtle changes in design standards, driven by local government standards.’’ Such as roll-top gutters which preclude the need to cut in a separate driveway (making them cheaper), increase access and simplify parking.
There are more multi-purpose community buildings which might include a GP, day-care and rooms rented out for birthdays, functions or club meetings.
‘‘Everything’s laid on — open spaces for cricket, a barbecue, a bushwalk. Who needs a backyard?’’Richard Wood, UrbanGrowth NSW
All these are often part of development contributions, consent conditions set by the council — monetary or dedication of land or provision of a public facility (say, hall or park) or all three. Every developer is liable for such Section14 conditions.
And the starting point for any new development is the NSW Housing Code, Mr Wood said.
But on top of that? For one thing, UrbanGrowth has special rules for corner blocks (see picture below right), for example.
Other developments in the last 20 years include the home theatre, walk-in wardrobes and en suites. ‘‘They weren’t commonplace 30 years ago. And you’d also be surprised at the number of single-storey homes in Western Sydney. You see, a whole generation grew up in two-storey homes and they’re sick and tired of walking up and down stairs! Not to mention single-storey is cheaper to build.
‘‘At the end of the day it’s the local government which is the planning authority. We cannot override the council. The minister only has jurisdiction over rezoning. The development is in the jurisdiction of local government.
‘‘We’re near the kids, we have a beautiful new house, Woolies is about to open and we’re away from the city rat race.’’Ian Bosler, homebuyer
’’What we’re doing is converting greenfield into residential suburbs and this will change the landscape of a local government area.
‘‘Councils on the urban fringe have to weigh up where development goes and what form it takes. They may have existing ratepayers who’ve lived there for generations. Councils must consider that. And I don’t envy their position because people can be quite emotional about where they live.
‘‘As for those areas where nobody lives yet the development has to recognise the landform already there and adjoining.
‘‘For example, at Edmondson Park and Bingara Gorge there were pre-existing rural lots, sometimes up to six hectares each, and the estates were designed with larger lots interfacing with them and smaller lots further within the estate.’’
New estates make better use of transport infrastructure, such as Thornton being just 10 minutes’ walk from Penrith station and Bella Vista Waters and Edgewater walking distance from the new Bella Vista station. ‘‘Transport planning is a long-term thing. Major infrastructure has a long lead time. You have to weigh up the benefits of a road upgrade or a new train line. Transport NSW generally do get it right.
‘‘The market pushing for a land release can go a lot faster than major transport infrastructure can be rolled out. And housing can precede it, sometimes by a very considerable time.’’
‘‘If left uncontrolled you get road frontage one side and a big long ugly fence on the other, like in old estates. Now all corner houses must address both street frontages.’’Richard Wood, UrbanGrowth NSW
The first residents moved into Bella Vista Waters in 2002; the station — part of the under-construction $8.3b North West Rail Link — won’t open until 2019.
‘‘The South West Rail Line is due to open next year and that goes through the Edmondson Park release area.’’
On top of rail lines and transport infrastructure, you need sewer and power — ‘‘and you can’t leave all that to developers to supply’’.
Regarding traffic planning, morning and afternoon peak-hour gridlock especially along the M4 and M7 is a very real concern. ‘‘Quite rightly so. All these things are considered at the time we’re rezoning. The RMS will tell you quite quickly if state roads in any particular area have the capacity to handle future development. They generally get it right. They understand the need to relieve pressure on arterial roads and they work to improve roads in targeted areas.
‘‘Land releases are directed to take advantage of transport infrastructure.’’
‘‘The developer is entering into a contract with the buyer that there’ll be parks and shops and amenities, and the developer must deliver.’’Richard Wood, UrbanGrowth NSW
‘‘Certainly, in Sydney there’s a greater acceptance, and push, for greater housing diversity. Then the question of density arises. Look at Thornton, out at North Penrith. It’s a good example of what a well-masterplanned and well-delivered mid-density estate can be. Ideally, we’d like more of those across Sydney. For people looking to downsize, who don’t want a backyard but a large home, a terrace or townhouse is ideal. At the end of the 19th century we were very good at building Victorian terraces in Paddington.
‘‘The terrace home is still one of the best designed, most efficient and best loved. We forgot it. Hopefully, they’re now coming back. Done right, they’re not overbearing at all. They work best in areas of high amenities. Open space is needed to offset not having a backyard; somewhere to walk the dog, play with the kids. Amenities are very important in high-density living.’’ ❏
■ READ PART 2 | Problems solved, problems created Masterplanned estates are giving homebuyers a wonderful lifestyle but there’s no easy solution to where we’ll work — and how we’ll get there. We talk to the director of Urban Studies at UWS in part two of our three-part series. VIEW THE SPECIAL VIDEO
■ READ PART 3 | If estates are a turning point, what's next? Minister Pru Goward explains her vision, for now and the future, and addresses the problems of selling it.
■ More reading | UrbanGrowth NSW
■ Other Fairfax stories by this writer