Is Cairns running out of land for development? Delivering Density to the Cairns region.

It seems pretty hard to think that Cairns is running out of suitable land for efficient and affordable urban development, but that is just what is likely to happen in Cairns as our population increases and people from down south realise just how great the Cairns lifestyle can be.

I recently attended the Queensland State UDIA Conference in Brisbane with some colleagues and it was clear that the development industry and government continue to grapple with the challenges of future growth and delivery of affordable housing.

The conference was officially opened by Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, where we were regaled about the sure to be “award winning” release of the SEQ Regional Plan 2050.  The expectation is that up to 1.2 million NEW residents would be living in the urban areas of South East Queensland over the next 25 years.  It is also expected that South East Queensland will grow from 3.5 million to 5.3 million people and require almost 800,000 NEW dwellings during this time.

Accommodating that future growth and maintaining the environmental and social values of the community means that a target of 80% of future dwellings (or 640,000 dwellings) will need to be built via in-fill development (developing existing built areas) and innovative ways of providing density within these areas.

That means:

  1. Increased ‘mixed-use’ development options that provide for greater building heights;
  2. Smaller housing options for different resident structures (ie. single person households);
  3. Delivery of public transport and social infrastructure to support the population expected in the suburbs (ie. Cross River Rail);
  4. Creating satellite employment and commercial/retail nodes where the delivery of services can be provided; and
  5. Ensuring that affordable housing options remain available for the broader community to choose varying living options.

It might seem like a lot of town planning jargon, but the real effect is that the development of housing in the 5 – 10 km zone from the CBD will include more medium density options and be vastly different than what we are accustomed to.

This approach to accommodating the future growth of the local community and providing affordable housing choices will certainly be something that we hear more about in the Cairns region over the next 5 – 10 years.

What does that mean for us in Cairns??

Greenfield sites (farms and vacant land) north of the Barron River are almost all gone and the expansion of the ‘Urban Footprint’ into the Mt. Peter MPA, which provides all the facilities that people have become accustomed to, is likely to come at a substantial cost (which in realistic terms will be passed on to future residents in some form).

Consolidating our urban areas and providing for efficient in-fill development is a conversation that the Development Industry, Cairns Regional Council and the community must be having soon to understand the changes that this will bring and how we are going to deal with it.

These issues are usually not paid any attention until ‘that development proposal down the road’ brings it to the ‘front door’ and of course, the ensuing arguments about NIMBY’s (Not In My Backyard) then get thrown around.

The Missing Middle

The catch phrase of this year’s State UDIA Conference was all about “The Missing Middle” which is a term coined for the development of medium density accommodation and varying forms of affordable housing between 3- 10 KM from the CBD.  These areas will require:

  1. availability to public transport and relatively easy access to services;
  2. housing options that include townhouses, terraces and apartments in the areas where “redevelopment” begins to take shape;
  3. increased densities including accommodation up to 10 storey projects (30 metres) which will be vital in developing these housing options into the future and this will introduce housing options and place less reliance on the use of private vehicles to move between destinations.

These projects are not new to the development sector, they have been happening for 10 years or more in places like Bowen Hills, Toowong and Fortitude Valley and in the sub-district centres of Brisbane.

The Challenge for the Cairns Community

Development at higher densities for the future growth of Cairns needs to be a conversation and the community needs to have substantial ‘buy in’ or it is destined to be war and conflict between those who oppose change and others that embrace the opportunities that it presents.

At the moment in Cairns, the Planning Scheme (CairnsPlan 2016) suggest that the highest density development outside the Cairns CBD (in the suburbs) should be a maximum of 4 storey and 40% site coverage.

This maximum height and development density has been around for 20 years and does not take into consideration the changing nature of living options.

I expect that developers will look to introduce these new styles of housing in the coming years as supply/demand pressures continue to build and costs associated with finding a home become exceedingly out of reach for some in our community.

Urban Sync is hopeful that this conversation happens sooner rather than later as the first projects approved and undertaken will set the tone for in-fill development.

For more information about Cairns Town Planning please contact us at Urban Sync on 4051 6946.

You can download your copy SEQ Regional Plan 2050 here.