Without Density Done Well the High-rise Debate will Continue

Density and high-rise continues to be a major point of debate in Perth with South Perth flaring up as the current hot spot on the issue. As I argue in the WA Today article below, Perth needs to get better at doing density well. The DAPs who are approving most of these major developments also need to get better at demanding higher quality outcomes Approving poor quality density with poor amenity impacts is in danger fueling a backlash right at the point when dealing with urban sprawl is critical.

In Freo we have had some high quality development applications and some that are, to be frank, not so good. Our independent Design Advisory Committee does a good job of improving developments but I believe they need to be supported by stronger state government leadership that would see requirements like the SEP65 in NSW also introduced in WA.

Anyway here is the article:


High-rise anger not confined to South Perth, says urban planning expert

March 9 2016, by Emma Young

Planners risk a fierce “density hangover” unless they keep people on-side in the push to combat Perth’s urban sprawl through infill, says a Perth sustainability expert.

The comments follow the story of Hellen Barnaby of 100 Mill Point Road South Perth, who last week said her home had become a “concrete coffin” after her balcony was walled in by new high-rise being built next door.

The laws allow zero-setback of high-rises’ podiums (the wider part at the base) so they are flush with street and side boundaries.

The result is a continuous edge on the street, allowing for cafe strips to develop as the new developments’ ground floors are filled with commercial tenants.

While the ‘towers’ are thinner, so there is a gap between apartments higher up, first-floor residents already living there face a shock if they are unprepared.



A blank wall built inches from a first-floor balcony in Bennett Street, East Perth. 
A blank wall built inches from a first-floor balcony in Bennett Street, East Perth. Photo: Emma Young

The South Perth story sparked social media debate, with similar situations pointed out in in East and West Perth.

Before becoming Mayor of Fremantle, associate Professor Brad Pettitt was Dean of Murdoch University’s School of Sustainability and continues there as senior lecturer in sustainable development.

He said while zero setbacks were a good planning principle for urban centres, they had to be used with caution in mostly residential areas transitioning to mixed-use, which could suffer “unfortunate and unexpected” outcomes, such as what happened in South Perth.

“They do have the upside of creating a strong urban core, the sense of a city block,” he said.

“But the downside is when the development doesn’t happen in a uniform manner and you end up with a poor amenity outcome.

“There are a few in Freo I’m particularly aware of, where there is poor light and sunshine issues.”

Plunged into darkness: an example of a tower built next to a first-level balcony on Prowse Street, West Perth. Plunged into darkness: a new tower built next to a first-level balcony on Prowse Street, West Perth. Photo: Emma Young

Professor Pettitt said all local governments trying to achieve good long-term urban form would face such barriers and needed to “take the community through the process step-by-step” and ensure clear communication to avoid backlash.

He said Perth had recovered from the “density hangover” resulting from a lot of ugly salmon brick flats built in the 1960s, that for many years made infill a dirty word and resulted in urban sprawl.

“We are not dealing with it properly. And we need to,” he said.

“The next generation needs to be planned and designed well, or we will end up in the same situation again and it will become so divisive that politicians lose the courage to steer it through.”

The City of South Perth said it considered all public submissions, including the Barnabys’, when it considered the development in 2012.

The developer applied to increase the height of the building in 2014 and the City again consulted but got no new public submissions, so accordingly recommended the state Development Assessment Panel approve the building as it complied with planning guidelines.

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

One Response to Without Density Done Well the High-rise Debate will Continue

  1. The current process of assessment at a local level relies in many instances on predominantly eminent academically-dominated panels. These post-assess designs – many of which result in projects doomed to mediocrity. An alternative may be to have a more design-practitioner based system involved at the START of the process. After discussing it with a number of other practicing design architects, the feeling is that this may result in more synergistic outcomes.

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