Can Melbourne depend on infill housing?

Geography of infill developments in City of Monash, 2000-2006 (source: Phan et al, 2008 - graphic via Grattan Institute)

We know that the inability to increase significantly the supply of dwellings within established suburbs is a key failing of strategic planning in Melbourne. Simply put, there’s not enough housing to make established suburbs affordable for all the people who would like to live in a relatively accessible location.

We also know that activity centres aren’t pulling their weight in the task of increasing supply (see here and here) and that the burden of supply is instead falling on small-scale infill development, much of it dual occupancy projects. So it’s worth looking further at the nature of infill housing.

A study by Monash University’s Thu Phan, Jim Peterson and Shobhit Chandra , Urban infill: the extent and implications in the City of Monash, examined new developments in the municipality over the period 2000-06. They defined infill primarily as projects where two or more new dwellings were constructed on sites formerly occupied by detached houses. A total of 1,483 projects were identified, ranging in size from two dwellings to 178.

The study revealed a number of interesting aspects about this middle suburban municipality.

First, it found new dwelling supply is dominated by small projects. One project built more than 178 dwellings and three built between 40-77 dwellings, however 98% of projects involve just 2-7 seven dwellings (and we can be pretty confident they’re heavily weighted toward the smaller end).

Second, projects are dispersed, not concentrated. As shown in the exhibit, proximity to major trip generators is uncorrelated with location of projects. Just 5% are within 400 metres of a Principal, Major or Specialised activity centre, and only 10% are within 400 metres of a rail station. Moreover, the authors found projects located within 400 metres of an activity centre are smaller on average than those in more distant locations.

Third, developers tend to be opportunistic rather than strategic – they wait for properties to be offered for sale and assess each one on its potential for redevelopment. Thus the geography of infill development is shaped largely by what comes on the market rather than by any sort of deterministic planning policy.

Fourth, the size of lots and the age of the existing house is a more important influence on the location of infill development than proximity to an activity centre or rail station. The average infill site is relatively large (700 to 900 sq m) and the majority of existing dwellings are relatively old i.e. built between 1945 and 1965. Lot sizes close to rail stations are smaller – and hence less amenable to redevelopment – than those further away, probably reflecting the different periods of development.

Thus not only are activity centres failing to expand housing supply in accordance with the precepts of Melbourne 2030, but the great bulk of new housing being built in Monash isn’t located close to activity centres but rather is dispersed (relatively uniformly too judging by the exhibit i.e. non-randomly).The dispersed pattern will worry some, but I don’t see it as a big issue. Read the rest of this entry »


– Where do university workers live?

Region of residence within Melbourne of university workers (%)

I’ve said before that there isn’t one ‘Melbourne’ – there are multiple ‘Melbournes’. The home range of Melburnians is pretty restricted – the great bulk of their travel is made within a region defined by their home municipality and contiguous municipalities. Many suburbanites rarely visit the city centre, much less the other side of town.

This pattern of sub-regionalisation is illustrated by Melbourne’s three major universities. I posted on March 16th about the mode shares of work trips to these universities. To summarise, at the time of the 2006 Census, 41% of Melbourne University staff drove to work while over 80% of staff at Monash and La Trobe Universities commuted by car.

The accompanying charts look at something else – where university workers lived in 2006. They show a number of interesting things.

The first chart indicates that staff of these three universities don’t tend to live west of the Maribyrnong. The west has 17% of Melbourne’s population but houses only 8% of Melbourne University’s staff. The ring road provides good accessibility from La Trobe to the west but even so, only 3% of the university’s staff live there.

Second, Monash and La Trobe serve distinct regional markets, in the north and south (of the Yarra) respectively. Melbourne University has a more metropolitan ambit but it still has a sub-regional focus – its staff strongly favour the inner city and the inner northern suburbs.

Third, university staff like to live close to their employer. This is particularly evident with La Trobe, where 56% of staff reside within the four municipalities closest to the university i.e. Darebin, Banyule, Nillumbik and Whittlesea (see second chart). Read the rest of this entry »


Why is transit’s share low at Latrobe Uni?

Mode shares (%), 2006 Census

Workers who commute to Melbourne University at Parkville are much more inclined to use public transport than their colleagues who work at suburban Monash or Latrobe universities. The chart shows that at the 2006 Census, 41% of Melbourne University workers reported they drove to work compared to 83% at Monash and 84% at Latrobe universities. Many more staff at Melbourne also walked and cycled – 24% compared to 6-7% at the other two institutions.

Melbourne University’s lower car use is explained by a few key factors. The main one is that it is located on the edge of the CBD where car use is limited by high levels of traffic congestion and expensive all-day parking charges. For many staff, driving would take too long, generate too much angst and be too expensive. If the value of driving is marginal, the decision to choose an alternative will be tipped by the high quality of public transport service available to Parkville workers. Although it’s not served directly by rail (none of these universities are), Melbourne University has easy access by multiple tram lines to the CBD and thence to the many radial train and tram lines linking to the larger metropolitan area. For many Melbourne University workers public transport would be a no-brainer.

Melbourne University’s high level of walking can largely be attributed to the relatively high residential densities in the nearby CBD and inner city environs. If transport is expensive in outlays and time, it makes sense for workers to live close to the university. In this case, living close to the university also means living close to the many activities and opportunities offered by the inner city.

The suburban setting of Monash and Latrobe provides a very different environment. Although these universities are not without their challenges, they generally experience less traffic congestion and enjoy cheaper parking than Melbourne University. Low suburban residential densities and large open space and industrial uses mean fewer staff can live within walking distance. The level of public transport service is actually pretty reasonable by prevailing standards (for example, see here) but obviously not as good as Melbourne University, which benefits greatly from its proximity to the CBD. Read the rest of this entry »


Will Rowville be a Clayton(s) rail line?

Size of Clayton/Monash precinct (jobs) relative to the six designated suburban CADs

Sooner rather than later, the Baillieu Government is going to have to prove its credibility on public transport by making substantial progress on one of the rail lines it has promised. And I have an idea for where it should start.

The easiest candidate is the promised Avalon rail line because its cost is estimated at only $250 million. But as some commentators have pointed out, including me, this would almost inevitably be a jumbo white elephant. It could be a real political liability too.

If good sense prevails, the Federal Government will refuse to contribute to the project and the Government will be off the hook. The private operator might also refuse to contribute to a properly designed financial model.

The other promised rail lines – to Rowville, Doncaster and Melbourne Airport – are all subject to studies. They will all be very costly to build to an acceptable standard but it’s unlikely the electorate will be bothered by the fine print or the cost. It’s likely that as far as they’re concerned, a ‘promise’ is a promise.

I’ve indicated before that none of these lines, on the face of it, seem ready for the green light just yet (here, here and here). Unless new information is introduced or the projects are redefined, it seems to me that any objective study would have to conclude they won’t be ready for funding for some time, probably not until after 2020 (it wouldn’t be politic for any government to come out and say ‘no’ outright).

But I think the Government will have to show serious progress on at least one of these lines by the time of the next election. In my view, the preferred candidate should be the Rowville line, but in an amended form. Read the rest of this entry »


Do employers encourage too much driving?

Guess who is at fault in bicycle-car smashes in The Netherlands?

Monash University’s Professor Graham Currie is quoted in The Australian (6 October) as arguing that employer subsidies for staff car parking should be removed:

When buildings go up in cities, the parking component is about 37 per cent of the total cost. Is that cost passed on to the people who use it or borne by society as a whole? I can tell you it’s the latter because most car commuters don’t pay their own parking; their employers do. The costs of this ‘free parking’ flows through into the price of goods and services, so we are all in effect subsidising the car owners who drive into the city. Traffic congestion in Australian cities is unlikely to diminish because so many car commuters don’t pay their own parking bills

The Victorian Employer’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI) has hit out at Professor Currie, arguing that many employers offer subsidised parking as a way to woo workers to city jobs where it is otherwise inconvenient or untimely to use another transport method, like the train or bus:

The way to lessen inner city congestion is not to restrict choice but to increase it – making it more attractive to travel on trains, trams, buses or to walk/ride. Ultimately employers should retain the freedom to offer whatever incentive it deems it requires to lure the best calibre of workers to its business.

I don’t buy VECCI’s line about not restricting choice, but I agree entirely that employers and their staff should generally be free to negotiate whatever lawful remuneration packages they want. However I think it’s an entirely different matter if those packages are underwritten by tax payer subsidised car use. Read the rest of this entry »


Does the proposed Rowville rail line make sense?

At first glance, the Victorian Opposition’s enthusiasm for a new rail link between the existing Huntingdale station and Rowville seems like simple opportunistic politics. And it undoubtedly is. But as we shall see later, a variation on this idea might be worth a second glance.

The idea of a Rowville rail line goes back to 1969. The most recent substantive development was a pre feasibility study commissioned by Knox City Council in 2004 and undertaken by Professors Bill Russell and Peter Newman.

The study endorses the rail line, arguing that it could reduce the travel time from Rowville to the CBD by 30 minutes, improve the mobility of students using rail to access Monash University, remove cars from freeways and reduce the need for households to own second cars.

The pre feasiblity study is very “preliminary”, but nevertheless there’s enough there to see that there are some formidable obstacles to this proposal. Read the rest of this entry »


How important is transport in addressing climate change?

There are some salutary lessons in the Climateworks Australia report, Low Carbon Growth Plan for Australia, released publicly last month.

It reinforces the point I made on 10 March (We need to be more strategic about how we tackle GHGs) that it is important to think more deliberately about how to reduce carbon emissions. The estimated contribution that traditional “urban” policies in transport, buildings and land use planning can make to reducing emissions is relatively small, contributing together just 11% of potential savings, whereas the Climateworks report estimates power generation could contribute 31% and forestry 28%. Read the rest of this entry »