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Craig Pontey’s Blog – It’s Hard to be a Crowd Pleaser

By Kenn Leong

It’s Hard to be a Crowd Pleaser

April 17, 2014 by Craig Pontey

Do you ever drive to work and without warning feel a thud as your car encounters a pothole in the road, or go for a walk around the local neighbourhood and take a stumble over a section of uneven footpath, or encounter yet another TV set abandoned on the kerb? I think the answer to any of these questions might well be ‘yes’. Because as we all know our local community environment has an ongoing impact on our daily lives, and this always makes me stop and think about the role of Local Government.

In January The Independent Local Government Review Panel released its final report Revitalising Local Government and while many of the recommended changes will take several years to complete. The topic of local government has far reaching interaction into our lives, community and of course a very big impact on the property market.

We should remember that Local government is big business; in NSW councils spend around $10 billion each year and employ some 50,000 people. And so better local government is vital to meet community needs and work effectively with State agencies. Many councils face serious financial problems and despite that fact, most are resisting the idea of amalgamation. However from every perspective we have to ask if in their current model are all councils fit-for-purpose into the mid-21st Century.

When we for example look at the role of local government in planning and development issues the current arrangements appear not to be working. And given how big an impact this can have on so many areas of a simple DA to add an extension to an existing home right up the scale to a major new development this is a debate we can all take an interest in, not just when a review hits the headlines, but always. Mind you not that this is by any means a new topic. I recently came across an article from would you credit 1954, when yes almost the exact same topics were being debated, including the best to fund local government!

It’s Much More than Service Delivery

All of our communities are impacted by how councils deliver every day services but the agenda in 2014 is all about a fresh start and how to better manage planning and infrastructure issues. These have a very big impact on the housing market, when poorly managed we see big delays and cost shifting add time delays and costs to projects be they big or small, that in-turn can adversely limit supply and in today’s climate also have a negative impact on affordability.

We can all appreciate that there is an ever greater move to higher density living, currently the mix of new development is 56% detached homes and 44% multi unit, but very soon that is expected to move to a 50:50 ratio. This trend is by no means confined to only small pockets, it is now a widespread reality of the market.

And in some cases this is a shift that some communities and local councils are struggling with and so increasing it is being suggested that we need to find a better and new ways of working together to make better use of scarce resources, that is housing.

I think that we would all accept that there is no cure-all to this topic, it’s an ongoing debate, which I am sure even goes back beyond the 1954 example I quoted earlier. However I do feel that a combination of community pride, leadership, collaboration and information shared by local communities will help meet the development challenge and might help lead us to strategies that are more workable in today’s information age.

Positive collaboration and easy access to quality information shared between institutions and individuals will help to inform the decision making process. Because a co-operative approach might help councils and the wider community to overcome many of the apparent road-blocks that are having a negative impact on planning, zoning and development issues. I do know that years of working in the property sector have shown me that a strategy of crowd pleasing will not deliver the economic, development or community agenda we need as we all adopt to the shifting needs of the housing market.

And while I accept that this approach will be different for an established area like Sydney’s east, and be very different from an area of development that is say 20 or 30 kilometres from the CBD. A cohesive, engaged and co-ordinated approach to Local Government will not only fix a pesky pothole, but it will also address some of the very big problems that every urban community faces.

A new approach to Local Government will also help deliver the social benefits a healthy housing market, which today includes access for first time buyers at one end of the market or the delivery of new housing options for baby boomers and investors at the other end of the market.

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