In Part 1 of ‘Noosa Housing in Crisis’, Aaron White spoke of the negative impact of population growth and the Short-Term Accommodation (STA) crisis on Noosa’s housing and rental market. Today he looks at our Council’s response, and finds it wanting. And he asks if our famous ‘population cap’ has been quietly dumped.
Noosa Shire Residents and Ratepayers Association (NSRRA) has some serious concerns over Noosa Council’s response to the housing crisis, with their ‘Housing Strategy 2022’.
To put this strategy into perspective, it’s worth revisiting the process behind Council’s misguided attempt to unilaterally resolve the issue of housing affordability.
NSRRA questions Council’s involvement in this space, given the most determinant factors affecting affordability sit well outside the remit of local government (investor tax concessions etc). A point conceded in Council’s own planning reports, then conveniently disregarded.
In 2022, when Council released the Draft Housing Strategy for public consultation, much was made of shortfalls in provision of social and emergency housing, which are entirely State responsibilities.
However, setting jurisdictional matters aside, it was glaringly obvious Council’s motivation in establishing a housing strategy could be attributed to lobbying from the real estate and tourism sectors. As business recovered from Covid in early 2021, Council was pressured to address the shortage of affordable accommodation for cleaners, hospitality workers, and service staff etc.
Council’s new and proudly pro-business leadership dutifully responded by forming an industry representative group to direct the housing strategy. Unsurprisingly, the assembled real estate, development and social housing company representatives advocated for more development, less red tape, and financial concessions from Council.
It was remarkable how soon after introducing the 2020 planning scheme, Council managed to produce an extensive Housing Needs Assessment Report (HNAR 2021), recommending wide-ranging “Improvements to the Noosa Plan”. These so-called “improvements” proposed further densification of urban development, over and above the Noosa Plan’s significant increases.
In 2022, after a brief and widely criticised public consultation process, Council endorsed their controversial Housing Strategy 2022.
The strategy financially incentivises development, raises building heights, relaxes developer parking obligations, and seeks State planning approval to allow sporting, religious and ‘not for profit’ organisations to develop residential precincts on community, Council or State land.
NSRRA believes intensifying development beyond what’s already baked into the Noosa Plan 2020 can only exacerbate population pressures on infrastructure, services, and a road network already under permanent duress.
Have we quietly dumped our famous ‘Population Cap’ ?
The Noosa Plan 2020 significantly expanded the Shire’s potential development by approximately 4000 dwellings (15%).
Even State Government planners noted Noosa Council’s considerable addition to its future housing stock:
State DILGP Land Supply Development and Monitoring Report 2021:
(The State) “has identified increased planned dwelling supply in both the consolidation and expansion areas. It is noted that the Noosa Plan 2020 adopted on 16 July 2020 has increased consolidation capacity by about 4000 dwellings and this is reflected in Noosa’s planned dwelling supply.”
It’s notable that prior to the Noosa Plan 2020, State development benchmarks for Noosa were already being exceeded, as confirmed in Council’s Housing Needs Assessment 2021 document:
“This monitoring process advises that dwelling approvals in Noosa have exceeded the average annual benchmark since 2016/17”
From Council’s presentation at the recent ‘Noosa Housing Forum’ in March 2023, it’s safe to assume the principle of ‘sustainable carrying capacity’ to control Noosa’s population growth is now dead in the water.
In addition to the Noosa Plan 2020 planned population growth and the Housing Strategy 2022 increases to development density, a senior Council planner at the forum recommended every backyard in Noosa jam in an extra “Tiny Home” or granny flat to accommodate workers.
When pressed on population impacts of these policies, Councillors and planning staff contend it’s not an issue because Noosa’s low dwelling occupancy rates suggest population growth is behind expectations.
These justifications rely on the quite heroic assumption that houses filled by the influx of new residents during Covid, and all future housing, will have similarly low occupancy rates. This seems fanciful.
In any case, with up to 4000 of Noosa’s residential dwellings now co-opted for short-term accommodation and Council refusing to count STA tenants as population, it’s obvious their population projections lack credibility.
Manipulation of data to suit Council’s political narrative of low population growth won’t convince residents who are well aware of the unprecedented growth pressure Noosa has faced in recent years.
When combined impacts of the Noosa Plan 2020 and the Housing Strategy 2022 are considered, it’s clear Council has committed us to a pro-growth strategy which systematically dismantles our hard-won planning protections, including the years of painstaking and expensive public consultation that went into them.
NSRRA is concerned at Council conducting a compromised public consultation process to claim a mandate for their housing strategy, without communicating the genuine threat it presents to Noosa’s liveability and amenity.