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Hobart councillors say No, No, No to new homes

We don’t have enough homes to meet demand. This is the situation we find ourselves in but we should not be here. Tasmania’s Population Growth Strategy, released by the Department of State Growth back in 2015, clearly set the target to intentionally grow the population intentionally to 650,000 by 2050. So where did we go wrong? Who didn’t get this message? Who hasn’t been playing their part?

Wanting to understand where we have gone wrong – why there is such disparity between housing supply and demand – I took a closer look at the Hobart City Council’s planning approval activity. Every new home in Hobart is filtered through the tight weave of the Hobart City Council and what I found was hundreds of bedrooms being voted against, typically by the same core councilors, despite the development being recommended for approval because it complies with planning requirements.

The below is as of 5 September 2021. Source - Hobart City Council minutes.

In recent years, Councillors Helen Burnet and Mike Dutta have each voted against around 200 homes that were flagged for approval. The Lord Mayor and Councillor Bill Harvey are not far behind, respectively voting against 155 and 104 homes which were listed to green light.

The trend is clear and very concerning. Homes that are compliant and should be approved are being given a thumbs down by far too many elected members, many of which are the first to declare the need to address housing affordability and homelessness with urgency.

Hobart’s housing stress is not going anywhere until we have a complete overhaul of how our city views and approaches development. The urgent supply of public and social housing is fundamental. Equally important is Hobart City Council’s that they have played a large part in the creation of today’s high prices by strangling housing supply when they vote against compliant developments due to their own personal tastes and beliefs.

Most Tasmanians are feeling the impact of our suffocated housing supply in some form. What happens in the Hobart Chambers matters to more than just the people in central Hobart. The domino effect is powerful, transferring demand further from the city when Hobart is at capacity and too expensive. And when there isn’t enough to go around, the temptation to take from others is too strong for some to revisit. For landlords, this is playing out as threats at the state level to remove owners’ fair rights through rent control, removing the end date from leases and forcing owners to accept animals in their properties. For others, the Hobart City Council is fixated on removing the option for owners to use their property for short-stay accommodation, completely blinkered to the many benefits it brings by sharing the tourism dollar more widely.

Given the severity of today’s housing situation, the absence of a blue sky over the hill and the importance of the community having the full picture, I recently wrote to the Lord Mayor, Anna Reynolds, requesting that the Council extend and improve the transparency of the summary planning activity information published by the Council.

A summary of the applications that manage to garner majority support is currently available but there is no mention of the hundreds of homes that members vote against. The summary needs to be expanded to include the planning applications that have been rejected and the voting result of each application. Given voting against developments which have been recommended for approval is rampant and non-sensical, it is fair that these members also provide a brief statement outlining why that home, that has already ticked seemingly endless boxes, gets a red card from them.

- UPDATE The Lord Mayor, Anna Reynolds, hand-balled this to the Director of Planning who said no, citing resourcing issues.


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