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Cheap housing quota off the boil

THE NSW Government appears to be backing away from asking developers to provide affordable housing, days after announcing it was cutting levies to make it easier for first-home buyers to enter the market reports Catharine Munro SMH Urban Affairs Editor with Sunanda Creagh.

More than 10 years after the former planning minister Craig Knowles established a Taskforce on Affordable Housing, which called for developers to supply a quota of cheap housing in their developments, his successor, Frank Sartor, told a parliamentary inquiry that a decision had not been reached. Asking developers to pay "affordable-housing levies can increase development costs", Mr Sartor later said.

"The Government is still pursuing options in relation to affordable housing," he told a budget estimates hearing yesterday. "All these things have to be calibrated against this problem we have of excessive costs."

Following a Treasury review, developers will no longer be asked to help pay for schools, police stations and hospitals to make it cheaper to build new housing in both new suburbs and established areas. One developer has already struck an agreement with the State Government in exchange for building 1600 affordable apartments at the Carlton United Brewery. The fund will be used by the State Government for housing around Redfern and Waterloo.

Such agreements are designed to keep so-called "key workers" such as nurses, police and teachers in areas where housing costs are through the roof.

The brewery site's developer, Dr Stanley Quek, has agreed to contribute enough for 75 units priced at $450,000, and recently told the Herald he is familiar with the policy because of the projects he has completed in London.

But while the London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, required that as much as 50 per cent of housing in a development must be classed as affordable, the NSW Government required less than 5 per cent.

Professor Julian Disney, who chaired the State Government's housing affordability taskforce in the late 1990s, said "disturbingly little" had been done since then. Professor Disney had called for quotas to vary from 10 to 50 per cent. "NSW is dragging the chain badly," he said. In South Australia, planning agreements must be made with a target of 15 per cent affordable housing.

An Australians for Affordable Housing spokesman, David Imber, said developer contributions for affordable housing were usually borne by the seller of land, rather than the developer. "It's disingenuous for developers to argue that all these policies will put up the cost of houses," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Sartor told the parliamentary hearing he had sent a "show cause" letter to Ku-ring-gai Council as to why it should not be stripped of significant planning powers. Mr Sartor said a panel could be appointed under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act "where the performance of a council in dealing with planning and development matters is, in my opinion, unsatisfactory".

He singled out the completion of the council's planning rules as a reason for concern.

But the Mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Nick Ebbeck, said: "I think it's a disgrace the State Government is taking control of local councils, which is taking the community out of the picture."

[REDWatch Note - The arrangement for the affordable housing levy from the CUB site coming to Redfern Waterloo was put into the RWA Act when the RWA was established and was independent of who owns or develops the CUB site.]