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Projections, targets, forecasts and models: how do Sydney’s metro strategies try to anticipate our future housing needs?

Posted by on March 8th, 2016 · Government, Housing, Housing supply, Planning

By Laura Crommelin, Laurence Troy and Ray Bunker

As the planning boffins out there will know, Sydney has been the subject of three metropolitan strategies in the past decade – 2005’s City of Cities, 2010’s Plan for 2036 and 2014’s Plan for a Growing Sydney. In a recent working paper, City Futures Visiting Associate Professor Dr Raymond Bunker looked closely at these plans, teasing out what they tell us about the successes and failures of ‘compact city’ planning efforts in Sydney. One of the issues Dr Bunker explores is how these plans address the challenge of providing adequate housing for Sydney’s growing population. This blog post excerpts and expands on a few key elements of this analysis.

The 2005 Plan was the first to clearly espouse the compact city model. Various observers noted that the plan responded to strong developer lobbying (Searle 2006; Bunker 2007), as well as media and public pressure. It proposed that 70 per cent of new dwelling stock be built within the existing urban area by infill and redevelopment, with the other 30 per cent in greenfields growth. The 2005 Plan was accompanied by sub-regional strategies which developed housing targets by Local Government Area (LGA) for additional dwellings to 2031. These were informed by METRIX, an online model which examined the feasibility of locating these additional dwellings in centres as opposed to surrounding areas.

Growth following the 2005 Plan was disrupted by the GFC, the difficulties in redeveloping brownfields sites and the shortage of greenfields areas ready for development. The updated metropolitan strategy of 2010 took much the same approach, aiming to “[l]ocate at least 70% of new homes in existing suburbs and up to 30% in greenfields areas” (p. 7).

However, a change of government in 2011 led to another plan, which eschews any specific targets for greenfields and infill/renewal. Instead, the 2014 Plan concedes that some aspects of the housing market are outside government control, and focuses more on feasible development. While the plan does still contain an overarching housing target for 2031, it offers a more pragmatic perspective than the visionary long-term prognoses of the earlier plans, as “[t]he private sector will only develop housing on rezoned sites where there is sufficient consumer demand for it, at a price that provides a return to the developer” (p. 66).

Accordingly, the plan identifies areas with potential additional housing capacity, but then uses an Urban Feasibility Model to test development options for each subregion. It proposes setting five year housing targets with local councils to maximise the opportunities for growing housing supply. This is a shift from the longer-term sub-regional housing targets set under the 2005 and 2010 Plans.

So what can be gleaned from the more recent plans about how the provisions of the 2005 Plan have fared? There is little in the later plans about how the earlier targets have tracked, although there is a 2014 Property Council publication called Missing the Mark, which suggests that housing construction has failed to achieve the ambitions of the 2005 Plan.

Table 1 (below) shows the additional dwelling targets for each sub-region as derived from the 2005 Plan (p.18) and 2010 Plan (p.115). While the targets cannot be exactly compared as they are for slightly different time periods, they do show some wide variations in the additional subregional housing targets set in the two plans. The final column shows further variation in the dwelling projection figures released in 2013, which appear to have informed the total housing target of 664,000 cited in the 2014 Plan (p.65). It is important to note, however, that the 2013 figures are projections, not targets, and “do not necessarily reflect policy positions and may well differ from policy targets expressed in the Planning and Environment’s Metropolitan and Regional Strategies” (Department of Planning & Environment 2014b, n.p.).

Subregion 2005 Plan: 2004-2031 Targets 2010 Plan: 2006-2036 Targets 2013 Data: 2011-2031 Projections[1]
Central 55,000 61,000 53,700
East 20,000 23,000 32,650
South 35,000 58,000 76,500
Inner West 30,000 35,000 34,650
Lower North Shore 30,000 44,000 48,300
North 21,000 29,000 30,650
North East 17,300 29,000 26,250
West Central 95,500 96,000 102,550
North West 140,000 169,000 150,500
South West 155,000 155,000 108,550
Total 598,800 699,000 664,300

Table 1: Additional dwelling targets by sub-region in 2005 & 2010 Plans; dwelling projections by sub-region in 2013 Data


To explore this data further, a detailed table in the working paper breaks down the 2005 targets and the 2013 projections by LGA, and provides annualised figures to address the different time periods covered (see Table 2 on Page 8 of the working paper). While still an imperfect comparison, the juxtaposition of these two sets of housing figures raises important questions about the relationship between the setting of housing targets and the actual operation of the private sector in delivering new dwellings, while emphasising the growing dwelling needs to 2031.

For a more blog-friendly representation of the data set out in Table 2, CF Research Associate Dr Laurence Troy has developed interactive maps showing these annualised 2005 and 2013 figures, and the percentage difference between them. Click on specific LGAs in the maps to see the exact numbers. Obviously, the same disclaimers about comparability also apply to these maps, but they nonetheless tell an intriguing story about the shifting development expectations for various parts of Sydney over the past decade.

The first map, which shows the 2005 Plan housing targets, places much of the emphasis on delivering new dwellings in the two major growth centres in Western Sydney. The expectation in this strategy was that the inner west, eastern suburbs and lower north shore would have a much smaller role in delivering on housing targets. The City of Sydney is the exception, largely driven by the impacts of major developments in Green Square.

The second map, showing the 2013 projections, maintains the level of dwellings in the Western Sydney growth areas, but also increases the contributions expected of inner areas.

The final map (at the top of this post, and below) shows the percentage change in dwelling targets across the two plans, and suggests a renewed emphasis on inner zones, from the inner west through to Sutherland. It is particularly interesting to note the decline in dwelling targets from already low values in Strathfield and Burwood, despite both areas being part of the Parramatta Road corridor, which is the focus of major strategic planning in connection with the WestConnex road project.

Ultimately, however, perhaps the most interesting story here is the complexity involved in collating and comparing housing figures across the different plans. This highlights the need for more adequate explanation of what housing targets, projections and forecasts mean in various planning documents, and how they relate to one another. This complexity also demonstrates the drawbacks of Sydney’s planning landscape, which has been shaped by a lack of continuity and strong influence by various interest and lobby groups. On this point it is useful to compare the situation in Perth, where a centralised planning agency with bi-partisan support has been in place for decades. The planning outcomes are quite different, and will be explored in a forthcoming working paper by Dr Bunker, due out in early March. Be sure to check back here for its release.


[1] These projections were released by LGA; they have been aggregated here in line with the sub-regional structure used in the 2005 and 2010 Plans. The original data is available at:

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