Two charts show that Sydney’s medium-density housing is inadequate

The Low Rise Housing Diversity Code was a state government measure introduced in 2018 to encourage the ‘missing middle’, including double occupancy, terraces and mansions (a building with three or four attached apartments).

The code allows such developments to go through an expedited approval process, provided they meet certain design standards. However, the code does not apply if these types of dwellings are not permitted in a municipality’s local environmental plan.

Townhouses in Auckland, New Zealand, where'missing middle' reforms have been implemented to increase housing supply.

Townhouses in Auckland, New Zealand, where ‘missing middle’ reforms have been implemented to increase housing supply.Credit: Ruth McDowall/The New York Times

About half of Greater Sydney’s ‘medium-density’ (R3) zones ban low-rise dwellings, while 85 per cent of low-density R2 zones ban mansions or terraces or both. One in five R2 sparsely populated zones prohibits double occupancy.

Some of these bans have been introduced by city councils over the past five years in response to the government’s Low Rise Housing Diversity Code.

The government has announced reforms in this area. In a June speech, Secretary of Planning Paul Scully said that if semi-detached houses were built on just 5 percent of the lots designated for low-density housing, where they are currently banned, “we would have 67,500 new homes.”

“These are good reasons to focus more on infill development rather than greenfield development,” Scully said. “But that doesn’t mean that greenfield housing will stop entirely, it will remain part of the suite of housing solutions.”

Mayor Clover Moore and then-Mirvac boss Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz opened the Harold Park district in 2014.

Mayor Clover Moore and then-Mirvac boss Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz opened the Harold Park district in 2014.Credit: Quentin Jones

Kiersten Fishburn, secretary of the NSW Planning Department, said many councilors had banned different types of housing in areas where they had failed the “pub test” for it, although that may have been due to the blanket nature of the state government law.

The challenge now is to identify which areas are suitable for higher density and which are off-limits, Fishburn said, and the government will seek advice from experts on the ground. “If we’re going to fill in the missing centerpiece, we need to be more open and listen to the council members,” she said.

Korsanos said the government’s housing diversity code “probably” had a positive impact on semi-detached supply, which has remained stable. However, the more sophisticated forms of housing provided for in the law, such as mansions, were less financially viable.

Korsanos said the government should focus on medium-sized apartment buildings of four to six floors – “Paris scale” – because a development of this scale is more viable and could improve the landscape if parking is underground.

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He pointed to the Victoria Park district in Zetland, Mirvac’s Harold Park project near Glebe and the Atlas project in Alexandria as examples of this scale of development.

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Justin Scaccy

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