People need somewhere to live. The question is, where should this be?
For a number of years, there’s been a big planning push to greatly increase medium- and high-density housing close to town centres and transport routes.
The aim was to increase population around town centres, reviving them in the process. It also made sense to redevelop existing areas because they already have infrastructure and services.
This is why authorities have backed increased development in areas like Newcastle CBD, Newcastle West, Charlestown, Belmont, Warners Bay and Toronto.
The big plans for these towns probably haven’t eventuated as quickly as planners hoped. Some areas have made progress, but others have been slow to change.
One of the reasons for this could be that many people prefer to live in a more traditional suburb, on a block of land with a new house. This is the great Australian dream, which often comes with the great Australian mortgage. And whenever demand exists for this type of housing, developers will be happy to provide it.
Environmentalists, though, become alarmed at urban sprawl. They’re concerned about things like loss of habitat and biodiversity and increased use of motor vehicles. Most new subdivisions tend to entrench the status quo when it comes to transport, rather than evolving towards modern public transport systems.
Nevertheless, these matters often come back to demand and supply. Just as many people want new houses on blocks of land, they also want to drive their own vehicles.
The question of how to reconcile this with the obvious need to address climate change and create liveable, modern cities is a vexing one. Which brings us to a Newcastle Herald report about a massive plan for a subdivision at Minmi, near the junction of the M1 and Hunter Expressway.
As part of the deal to allow this area to be zoned for more than 2000 housing lots, Coal and Allied transferred about 1500 hectares of bush to the state government for an important green corridor from the Watagan mountains to Port Stephens.
In 2009, the Land and Environment Court delayed the Minmi project and other big developments at Huntlee [near Branxton] and Catherine Hill Bay. The court ruled that deals struck by the former Labor government for development in exchange for conservation land amounted to “land bribes”. But a few months after the court ruling, the state government tweaked the rules and the developments were back on.
It’s true that these sites weren’t originally at the top of planning lists for suitable development. But now they are being developed, it’s fair to say in hindsight that making developers donate land for conservation was a good move. Now it’s crucial that planners ensure these developments, including Minmi, are designed well and supported by adequate infrastructure.