Is unused infrastructure capacity in the inner suburbs all used up?

There was more evidence in The Sunday Age on the weekend that the spare infrastructure capacity that is widely presumed to be available in the inner city and inner suburbs has in all likelihood already been consumed.

What is unfortunate about this stubborn idea is that there are already sufficient good reasons for increasing housing density in established suburbs without having to resort to unsubstantiated and outdated beliefs.

Proposed 520 unit development, Coburg. How much 'spare' infrastructure capacity will it use?

New research by Professor Kevin O’Conner, Melbourne University, shows that the number of additional students who will be seeking enrolment by 2016 in the inner city and inner suburbs is equivalent to fourteen new schools.

However existing schools are generally at capacity. The principal of Port Melbourne primary is reported as saying “schools in this area don’t have the capacity to cope with more students….looking at my projected enrolments and those of neighbouring schools, and from what I hear about the plans for extra multistorey developments in Southbank and Docklands, we will be full soon”.

He could’ve mentioned that virtually every school within at least 10 km of the CBD already has one or more so-called temporary class rooms including, now, the two story portable, and some are using public parks for play and sport.

Unfortunately there is no credible contemporary analysis of infrastructure capacity and costs in different parts of Melbourne. As I’ve argued before (here and here), there is unlikely to be significant spare infrastructure capacity in the inner established areas. There are a number of reasons for this proposition: Read the rest of this entry »


Are lots smaller in the outer suburbs than in the inner suburbs?

The Financial Review (paywalled) reported on Saturday that the average house sold within 10 km of the CBD in Melbourne is located on a 511 m2 block, according to data collected by property information provider, RP Data.

Central Green, Highlands, Craigieburn - some lots are 213 sq m (click to enlarge)

Of course there is considerable variation in property types within that average. Houses in the inner city (0-5 km) are predominantly terraces on small lots whereas those in the inner suburbs (5-10 km) are predominantly detached houses on larger lots.

However what is especially interesting about this statistic is how it compares with the outer suburbs. The median size of lots sold in the Growth Areas is currently 513 m2, according to property consultants, Oliver Hume.

In other words, the average lot size is much the same in the two areas.

This is surprising, but a number of caveats are in order. First, some of the properties closer to the CBD would be destined for redevelopment whereas that seems unlikely in the Growth Areas. Read the rest of this entry »


Can inner city apartments save us from sprawl?

Here’s compelling evidence that inner city apartments are not substitutes for fringe development despite oft-repeated claims to the contrary.

The Age reported yesterday that the average size of new two-bedroom apartments under construction in Melbourne is just 73 m2, while the average size of one-bedroom apartments is 51 m2 and studio apartments 34 m2.

SEE apartments, Claremont St, South Yarra

More than three quarters of the 5,600 units currently being built are located in central areas, mostly in the Melbourne, Stonnington and Yarra municipalities. A spokesperson from property group Oliver Hulme says that the median size of apartments in the inner municipalities is no smaller than those in outer suburbs.

I must say I’m staggered by how little space you get for your money. According to the report, the entry-level median price for newly built two-bedroom apartments is around $530,000. Corresponding prices for one-bedroom and studio apartments are $379,000 and $302,500 respectively. It seems inner city buyers subscribe strongly to the “location, location, location” maxim.

In contrast, the median house and land package in Melbourne’s outer suburban growth areas costs around $383,500 and the median dwelling size is 219 m2. It’s even cheaper in Cardinia in Melbourne’s outer South East, where the median dwelling is 186 m2 and together with land costs $334,500 on average.

Clearly the inner city and the outer suburban growth areas are entirely different markets! The average size of apartments is probably reduced by the current high rate of social housing construction but I doubt that’s significant enough to explain the enormous difference between the two markets. Read the rest of this entry »


Why ‘spare infrastructure capacity’ is exaggerated

Are claims of spare infrastructure capacity in the inner suburbs real?

The Age reports that there were almost 30,000 more people living in Coburg and Pascoe Vale in 1976 than there are now (The Outer Limits). The paper quotes the former Mayor of the City of Moreland, who says that increasing the population density in many areas “is simply returning suburbs to previous population levels”.

The editorialist in The Age of 20 March stated that “some ‘traditional’ inner Melbourne suburbs – such as Coburg, Pascoe Vale and Fitzroy – have fewer residents than they did 50 years ago. Current ‘in-fill’ housing is thus regrowth” (emphasis added).

The idea of course is that there is spare capacity in infrastructure and amenities that can accommodate ‘restoration’ of the historic population level. This would be a good thing because any underutilisation of infrastructure is economically wasteful. It might also minimise further ‘sprawl’ at the urban fringe. Read the rest of this entry »