When will Sydney run out of greenfield land?
.id has undertaken a set of highly detailed population forecast for New South Wales and the ACT over the last 12 months. This work has given us a great insight into some of the planning challenges for urban development across NSW and the ACT, most notably in Sydney. One of the most interesting results of this forecast work is the constraints on future residential development in Sydney and the implications for policy-makers. We expect population in Metropolitan Sydney to increase from about 4.6 million in 2011 to just over 6.1 million by 2036 – where will these people be housed?
Population growth to 2036
Metropolitan Sydney has currently significant stocks of residentially-zoned greenfield land and land earmarked for urban expansion. Much of this land is located in the west and south-west of the City, as well as smaller pockets in Pittwater and Wyong on the Central Coast. One of the more interesting challenges of undertaking a population forecast is seeing how those stocks will change over time as residential opportunities are absorbed by large amounts of demand for new housing.
There is currently substantial new greenfield residential development occurring in the Local Government Areas of Blacktown, The Hills, Penrith, Camden and Liverpool as well as more moderate development occurring in Campbelltown, Wollondilly and Wyong. By 2036, due to the nature of existing demand and Government policy, most of the greenfield land reserves will be developed in Blacktown, The Hills, Penrith, Campbelltown, Wyong, Wollondilly and Pittwater. It is likely that only Liverpool and Camden will have any significant opportunities new greenfield opportunities beyond 2036.
Assumed remaining residential greenfield opportunities by LGA, 2011 to 2036*
Source: .id Small Area Forecast Information, 2012. *Includes vacant lots and unsubdivided land
Population growth beyond 2036
The main areas are likely to retain opportunities beyond 2036 are Camden and Liverpool. However, these areas are a long way from the centre of Sydney, their transport infrastructure is poor and access to jobs outside the CBD is relatively poor. By contrast, large amounts of development are occurring in LGAs to the north-west and west of the City in Blacktown, The Hills and Penrith. The West and North-West have better access to employment opportunities in the middle and inner west, notably Parramatta, Burwood, Strathfield and the Olympic Precinct, but most of the development areas will be built out by 2036.
The policy challenge
This poses a number of challenges to planning in Sydney. Given that Sydney remains the major destination for overseas migration in Australia and the preeminent business hub, it is unlikely that the pressure from population growth will reduce significantly over the period to 2036. There are a number of potential policy responses. These include:
- Do nothing
- Promote more development outside Sydney
- Find more land in the Sydney Basin
The ‘do-nothing’ option
The ‘do-nothing’ option means that the only significant reserves of greenfield land that remain in 2036 are in the south-west of Sydney. Future development will need to occur using greater densities in established parts of Sydney (units and townhouse developments) and by finding more areas to exploit for high density development and redevelopment. Examples include the Sydney Olympic Precinct, the Green Square Precinct south of the CBD and around Mascot and Wolli Creek Railway Stations in Sydney’s south.
Promote more development outside Sydney
The option of promoting more development outside of Sydney is one that is already occurring. It is also one that is more than likely to heighten as new residential development in the Sydney Basin becomes even more constrained. The filtering of development to both north and south of Sydney along the Coast is a well-established pattern. This includes development in the Hunter Region to the north and the Illawarra Region to the south. However, given that these areas are also relatively constrained topographically, Wollongong and Newcastle do not provide an obvious panacea to the greenfield troubles of Sydney.
There are many opportunities to promote greater development to the West of Sydney. However, the Blue Mountains remain a major constraint to large-scale development in the Central West, given more humble employment opportunities and that access to Sydney is more difficult than the distances suggest. Nonetheless, it is assumed that places such as Bathurst, Orange and Lithgow will have development pressures as a result of a growing Sydney.
Opportunities in the Sydney Basin
There are a number of potential areas for new greenfield development in Metropolitan Sydney beyond 2036. These include a large number of military establishments, such as Holsworthy Barracks (with significant environmental constraints) and Defence Establishment at Orchard Hills. There is also potential to rezone more land in areas to the south and north of Penrith. However, there are significant constraints to development in these areas. This includes the ongoing potential for a second airport, whether it is in Badgerys Creek, Wilton or another location. The other major constraint is the potential for flooding in the Nepean-Hawkesbury catchment area. This affects large areas of Penrith and Hawkesbury LGAs which might otherwise provide greenfield potential.
The challenges for growth in Sydney are quite significant. This results from the CBD being so far from its demographic centre, the topographical challenges of being hemmed in by the Hawkesbury River and Kuringgai Chase National park in the north, the Royal National park in the south and the Blue mountains in the west. While such constraints are not exceptional, they provide for challenges for planners. The challenges for Sydney in the long-term are accommodating for urban growth without compromising the aesthetics and economy of Sydney, the qualities of which have made it so attractive in the first place.
Small Area Forecast information (SAFi) are independent population forecasts produced by.id. SAFi tells the story of change across cities, towns and regions. SAFi provides both a macro perspective (for example how much will Sydney’s population increase in the next 10 years?) and a micro perspective (how will the number of school aged children change across the suburb of Glebe as more people have children in the inner suburbs?) This is possible because SAFi is delivered for the smallest geographic unit (CCD and smaller) which enables you to aggregate the numbers to any larger area such as a state, suburb, sales territory, or radius. Independent of government, these forecasts combine a “tops down” with a “bottoms up” methodology, ensuring that very specific local conditions are taken into consideration whilst controlling for overall population outcomes. More information is available here.
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