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Should we destroy our environment for housing affordability?

The Queensland Government’s so-called "affordable housing strategy," signed in July with no community consultation, establishes an Urban Land Development Authority with sweeping powers, including the power to amalgamate land, to acquire land in its own right, and to on-sell their land with development rights to particular private developers.

The justification provided for such sweeping powers being given to the new authority is to speed up approvals. It has long been a complaint of industry that the approval process for development is slow and therefore costly resulting in higher prices to home buyers. The enabling legislation pushed through Parliament, again without any consultation and with unseemly haste, of course strips away some current protections.

Under the new legislation, the Minister can declare areas of land for urban development or as major development areas. In these areas, the Act removes the community’s right to appeal approvals, overrides provisions in local government planning schemes that protect steep slopes, floodplains and waterways and removes restrictions in state legislation designed to protect endangered vegetation and waterways from destruction. It also removes the requirements for assessment with regard to contaminated land, heritage places and many other values.

With these policies, "ecological sustainability" has been abandoned in favour of "growth at any cost" development. Premier Beattie, once seen as a bit of a champion of environmental protection and community participation in the planning process, has, after removing the hard-won environmental gains of his nine years as Premier with this legislation, now handed over the reins to an eager new Premier Anna Bligh.

In response to media earlier this year calling for a population cap, Ms Bligh said that we need more growth "in order to create demand to maintain the jobs of people currently employed in construction." At the same time, the state government also claims that we need more skilled migrants to build the infrastructure needed to cope with the demands caused by Queensland’s population growth (also, no doubt, more taxpayers to pay for these major infrastructure projects). In other words, we have no choice but to grow our population in order to deal with problems caused by past population growth!

Housing affordability is an issue for all of the community and there are many ways to make housing more affordable, not the least of which is to lower the demand. The declaration of land as urban without any regard for the views of existing residents, the costs of infrastructure, the provision of open space or the local constraints to development is a betrayal of everything the Beattie government said that it represented. Now it seems they believe they have no choice but to continue to grow the population. It appears the Queensland government has fallen for the growth lobby’s arguments hook, line and sinker.

By Sheila Davis a member of Sustainable Population Australia