THE state government neither legislates for nor against masterplanned housing estates but it does enforce environmental considerations such as the preservation of waterways, endangered species and remnant bushland.
‘‘A developer has one of two options,’’ Planning Minister Pru Goward tells us. ‘‘They do it piecemeal or they take over a large amount of land and do it in a planned way.
"The government doesn’t have a preference either way for masterplanned estates but you can see why they’re so attractive to councils and communities because you have a plan to meet social and environmental obligations when you change the use of land.
"The developer can make it a more attractive place to live and councils get the certainty of knowing it’s not going to be just four or five houses dropped on a hectare block and the next subdivision comes along with another developer and one day they all sit back and say: ‘My goodness, there’s no open space, no one’s responsible for riparian zones or remnant bushland, no effort’s been put into making where we live beautiful, there’s just a bit of scrub out the back.’
"We feel a sense of community, we’re still close to family and it was affordable."Monique Jones, homebuyer, Oran Park Town
‘‘I grew up in the suburbs and that’s exactly what happened. A creek was a place for dumping rubbish because it hadn’t been integrated into the suburb. Developers have finally realised they have to meet environmental and social amenity requirements and they might as well do it properly. It's good for them, it's good for us.’’
Stats on the rate of rezoning for masterplanned estates are not to hand but the minister said there was still a lot of land on the fringes that could be rezoned as residential. ‘‘We’re also very interested in infill — converting old industrial sites and areas that have become rubbish tips.’’
Given that infill is limited, how long until we run out of greenspace to rezone? ‘‘Look, I don’t know exactly but you’ll find more and more of our population growth will be accommodated with infill rather than continuing to sprawl. The sprawl is why, compared with similar cities, we have more limited public transport options; there just isn’t the density to support public transport.
‘‘We’re fast approaching the limit of the metropolitan area and we must get better at making sure when we release land on the outskirts of the city that it’s got the right infrastructure.
‘‘In the bad old days you released a whole lot of land for subdivision with no main road, no school, nothing connecting it to anything, condemning people to hours on the road driving back and forth to work. We can’t afford to keep doing that. It was crazy then and it’s absolutely crazy now.’’
The minister has a long-range plan for new housing close to public transport hubs. ‘‘My plan for densification is that public transport routes should be where you put denser housing. More people using public transport justifies having it. Using trains or trams gets cars off the road. That’s driving my views about densification.
‘‘There’s no point densifying an area which isn’t near a major road or rail link. All you’re doing is creating congestion.’’
What sorts of housing do you envisage? ‘‘I like to talk about denser precincts. There’d be a lot of families in Sydney where the thought of having to get up at 7.30am, put two children in the back seat, drive 40 minutes to childcare, drive another 40 minutes to work, then go back at the end of the day, get through the traffic — I think they’d like to live in a precinct where there was a childcare centre, commercial opportunities nearby and they could walk to the station and get a train or tram to work.
Minister Pru Goward explains what's coming to Kellyville, Bella Vista and Showground:
‘‘That’s why we have three new Urban Activation Precincts on the North West Rail Link — at Bella Vista, Showground and Kellyville. There you have the opportunity to combine housing with a commercial precinct and job opportunities reasonably close or in walking distance of a station. It’s called planning for the future.’’
How will these new housing areas compare with current masterplanned estates? ‘‘That’s up to local councils to work through now we’ve identified those areas and the rezoning discussion is now going on. They could contain any combination of increased density — high-rise, medium-rise, high-rise with commercial offices at the bottom, high-rise with a school, there are endless opportunities.
"Bella Vista Waters and Edgewater were way over-priced. Adam said he'd never come here but we took a drive two years ago and both said this is cool!"Patricia Fallon, homebuyer, The Hermitage
‘‘Or you could do it all as medium-rise but thicker. People may have to walk 20 minutes to the station instead of 10. ‘‘Councils nominated these precincts and what they will look like is up to them but there are lots of choices. It’s not necessarily about apartment towers, a lot of it’s about a thicker footprint near a station.’’
Will this be cheaper housing? ‘‘It depends. In our growth centres we’ve just approved zoning regulations that let you build on much smaller blocks. So you could have a masterplanned estate where you have a row of terrace houses.
‘‘People from all over the world go to Edinburgh and Brighton to look at a row of Georgian terrace houses. They’re not unattractive and I have no doubt you could do that sort of thing as part of a precinct that also includes small blocks with traditional backyards. If you’re going to spend $4millon on a terrace house in Paddington we don’t need to conclude people don’t like terrace houses!’’
Transport at your door is fine but we’ve spoken to former residents of estates including Bella Vista Waters who couldn’t wait for the North West Rail Link to open in 2019 and have had to move. How do we deal with infrastructure lag?
‘‘Clearly there’s no point talking about high-rise or denser apartment blocks if the infrastructure isn’t there. Obviously, with the North West Rail Link you time the building of the apartments to match the development of the stations and the precincts and the railway line. It takes a lot less time to build an apartment block than to build a train line but we’re aiming for 2019 for the North West Rail Link and by then we should have a railway line, stations and lots of choices for housing.’’
"We’d never come this way but I thought ‘How pretty!’ and we bought straight away. It had just been released."Christine Evans, homebuyer, Waterstone
Would the plan for densification be high-density? ‘‘No. The small blocks we’re now allowing in the new growth areas mean you have greater density. Six homes on a large block that once had just two means you’ve got greater density.
''The most viable density is determined by a number of factors; it doesn’t all have to be about high-rise and I guess the point about masterplanned estates is you need to give people choice.
''Some people will choose to live in a beautiful estate with a lake and cyclepaths and accept the fact they may have to drive 50 minutes each way to the station or work; others couldn’t think of anything worse than driving 50 minutes each way and would prefer to live near a station in a beautiful apartment with a great big terrace with lots of flowerpots.’’
Perhaps, we don’t need backyards any more? ‘‘Children will always need exercise and human beings have always liked a bit of dirt under their nails. Greenspace is absolutely critical. I keep thinking of little boys and girls in places like Manila where they don’t see a blade of grass. Children need space to run around in, adults need places to go to sit and smell the roses. Literally.
''Why would Sydney give away its greatest world advantage — its climate and the capacity to enjoy being outside all year? There must be greenspace and opportunities to be outside. That’s our advantage. That’s why we’re an attractive place to live.’’
Some of the Urban Activation Precincts in your plan have run into opposition. What problems do you have enlisting support for them? ‘‘Because past development in Sydney has been so bad, councils and local communities are very nervous about what’s coming.
Minister Pru Goward explains why NSW is unique in the world:
''That’s why I’ve been at pains to say not only will there always be a lot of consultation and the state government will ensure all the issues we’ve just been talking about are considered — open space, noise, buildings with great standards so you’re not listening to your neighbours’ arguments at night.
‘‘Or people won’t want to live there. The tragedy is too much of that happened in the past. People didn’t have masterplanned estates.
''Developers just plonked a whole lot of houses on a great big block of land and walked away and people went to these desolate places without a community, shops, school, and they had to make it up for themselves. In the end often the most beautiful areas were just left as bits of rubbish remnant instead of being integrated into a plan with the style and place where people would want to live.’’
"We’ve had subtle changes in design standards, driven by local government standards."Richard Wood, UrbanGrowth NSW
Some people regret the demise of mum and dad’s triple-fronted red-brick house on a quarter-acre. What do you say to them? "That was another era in Australia but I guess what really happened was. We kept that dream going so long we’ve ended up with a city where people are angry every day because they’re sitting in traffic for three hours.
"To get from Campbelltown into the city in the mornings, with breakdowns and such, you have to allow for an inordinate amount of time. Some days people get to work two hours early, other days they don’t.
"We haven’t accepted that the city is continuing to grow and you can’t bury your head in the sand, you can’t pretend it’s not happening. With 1.6 million people what’s your choice? Ask people not to have babies? Ask people not to live so long? It’s not too late. It’s an exciting time for places like western Sydney to make sure we get it right from now on, that we create employment plans out there so people aren’t stuck on the M5 for three hours each way, that you can have a childcare centre where you live instead of having to put that poor baby in the back of the car.
"I’ve sat in the front of the car with a child screaming in the backseat and by law you’re not allowed to stop and pick the baby up and calm it. That’s just no way for a city to evolve.
"We need to accept the place is growing and ask how we plan wisely to ensure we retain those great Australian values of being able to have an outdoor life.
"You go to London you spend six or seven months of the year inside. You come here for sunlight, you come here so if the kids are playing up you can just say 'Let’s all go down for a walk in the park. Come on!’ Can’t do that in many other places in the world." ❏
■ READ PART 1 | The way we live has changed Where did the idea for masterplanned estates come from and what are homebuyers getting for their money? We talk to UrbanGrowth NSW to begin our special three-part report.
■ 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
■ Other Fairfax stories by this writer