URBAN TASKFORCE CHAMPIONS URBAN DEVELOPMENT - By CEO Urban Taskforce Australia, Chris Johnson


Sydney is fast changing its character from being a low rise city of leafy suburbs dominated by detached houses to becoming a more cosmopolitan city of apartment buildings. This change is creating some concerns by people living in the suburbs that what they see as the ‘traditional’ way of living is under threat. Rather than blaming government policies that lead to population growth many action groups like to blame the developers of the new buildings. It is difficult for individual developers to advocate for new ways of living so the Urban Taskforce has become the advocacy group on behalf of the development industry. Our role is to present the big picture positives of a growing and more prosperous city.



In my role as CEO of the Urban Taskforce I am able to understand the government position as well as the private sector. For ten years, from 1995 to 2005, I was the NSW Government Architect promoting the government’s approach to growth and following this I was Executive Director in the NSW Planning Department driving reforms to the planning system and plans for centres across Sydney. So I understand how government works and after six years with the Urban Taskforce I understand how the private sector works. I am finding that private sector developers, planners, architects and real estate experts are often frustrated by the complex planning system in New South Wales so I am focussed on how to help the development industry become more efficient through reforming the planning system.

One of the big changes to the development industry has been the arrival over recent years of Chinese development companies to set up satellite offices in Australia with a focus on locating in Sydney. A number of these companies have joined the Urban Taskforce including Aqualand, Ausbao, Austino, Country Garden, Hailiang, TWT and a number of others. I believe these organisations have a lot to contribute to development in Sydney by bringing in new skills and then adapting to our local culture. We have an excellent information exchange with these organisations.

The big picture advocacy from the Urban Taskforce has been about the inevitable change that Sydney will go through as we move from a city of 5 million people to one of 8 million over the next 40 years. We have recently undertaken some research based on the 2016 census that gives some very interesting information of the types of dwelling in Sydney. We engaged demographers McCrindle to look at the growing trend towards apartment living in Sydney. Currently 30% of dwelling in Sydney are apartments with 14% being townhouses and 55% detached houses. By 2024 the detached homes will have dropped to 49% and apartments grown to 34%. In 40 years- time apartments are predicted to be 50% of Sydney’s homes with 25% as townhouses and 25% as detached houses. This is a dramatic change and the Urban Taskforce is producing magazines about this as well as videos and many articles for newspapers. We have particularly championed height as an important part of accommodating Sydney’s growing population.

A key focus has been to relate new apartment towers to transport nodes and particularly to rail stations. We produced an edition of our Urban Ideas magazine on “Towers and Transport with many examples at stations like Chatswood, North Sydney, Town Hall, Parramatta and Redfern. Our advocacy here was to keep the taller buildings within walking distance of the railway station and that this approach would protect most of the low rise housing in Sydney. Another Urban Ideas was titled “Infrastructure and Density” where we proposed a metro rail “Circle Line” much like London’s and a “Central Line out to Penrith. With a clear public transport infrastructure framework we then called for most of the new housing development to be located around the new stations. Other publications have focussed on Affordable Apartments, Mid-Rise Apartments, A Sydney Style, Actions to Help Solve Sydney’s Housing Crisis, Architecture – Innovation not Regulation.



A recent initiative was to champion positive urban ideas from Asian cities including Shanghai and Singapore. We were concerned that government planners were promoting European cities like Barcelona and Paris as models for Sydney and were ignoring the incredible changes in our neighbouring Asian cities. A breakfast forum on this topic was held with the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) where former NSW Premier Bob Carr and a number of other speakers addressed the issue of “Learning from Asian Cities.” The publication explored how Singapore and Shanghai are using green landscape to soften their cities, the incredible role out of metro rail networks and the role of tall buildings in giving a spectacular image of the cities.

Another Urban Ideas publication looked at “Affordable Apartments” and the potential to maybe have smaller sizes of apartments to reduce costs. We found that in Melbourne a two bed, two bath apartment can be built in 65 square metres but in Sydney planning rules require 75 square metres. This extra 10 square metres adds around $100,000 to the sales price of the apartment. Our research also looked at other ways to reduce costs. Our approach was that these affordable apartments would be located in specific areas close to railway stations and amenities.

The Urban Taskforce leads much of the discussion about the future growth of Sydney and what sort of housing will be best for different demographic groups. In 2017 we ran a conference titled “The Sydney Skyscraper Summit” and a series of forums on urban issues. We also issue weekly online newsletters to those interested in the development of our cities. Annual awards present the best developments of the year and each year a Property Person of the Year is chosen. The winner is given the award at a spectacular dinner where funds are raised for two important charities.

For more information on the Urban Taskforce go to www.urbantaskforce.com.au

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