Policy paralysis holds Perth back

Bookmark and Share Project Western Australia | Louise Staley
Western Suburbs Weekly 31st October, 2007

Surely Perth is already highly liveable? In many ways this is true natural beauty, amenable climate and easy beach access deliver a great environment in which to live. However, when we consider the rules and regulations of Perth, its buildings and streetscapes, we see a different picture.

Perth is blessed with natural advantages. It is a shame these are being diminished by red tape, lack of vision and poor leadership.

Take shopping. Late night and Sunday shopping are still banned for most types of shops. As a result two income families have to juggle the supermarket shopping between work, picking the kids up, getting to the gym, and checking in on elderly parents; regressive shop trading laws only add to the usual never-ending list of tasks busy families shoulder every week.

Similarly, busy young professionals working huge hours often work all the hours the shops open. No wonder so many live on take-away and frozen meals. It is well overdue that Perth abolished the outmoded restrictions on shop trading hours so traders can tailor their hours to best suit their customers.

Then there s drinking. The old laws banning small bars and alcohol without a meal have been reformed. Unfortunately, too many city councils have fresh rules to stop new places opening. It s almost as if the city councillors think their residents are not sophisticated enough to have a glass of wine after work without causing a nuisance.

Of course, residential neighbourhoods don t want noisy beer barns near them. However, a flowering of many small, niche licensed cafes and wine bars dotted across both the CBD and suburban locations will enhance, not detract, from neighbourhoods.

A liveable city is one that offers choices for everyone.

To truly be a liveable city, Perth needs to pay attention to making the city affordable for all sorts of people to live here. Lack of housing affordability will affect every Perth person in one way or another. It now takes an income of $120,000 to qualify for a loan on an average-priced home when average household income is $56,420. At these prices, not only young people are being shut out of the market, but middle income workers are too.

Nurses, teachers, waiters, shop assistants and childcare workers are finding it increasingly difficult to buy a house, particularly close to their work. This has implications for all areas in attracting the staff needed to look after children, nurse the sick and elderly, and staff the shops and cafes.

The solution to high housing prices is to increase the supply of land, both on the edge of Perth where many young families want to build their dream home, but also as increased infill, particularly of apartments and townhouses. To achieve greater infill requires less projects being stymied by noisy activist groups. It s one thing for people to object to being personally overshadowed by a proposed development but quite another to have a general objection to any increases in density in their suburb.

Moreover as the population living in highly desirable and low density areas grows elderly, many empty-nesters and retirees will no longer want the upkeep of the big house and garden but will want to stay in the same area. At the moment there are very few options for this group. Local character is not set in stone and must be allowed to change and develop; the alternative is atrophy.

In addition to being affordable, what Perth looks like both the built environment as well as Perth s natural attractions has been the source of much soul searching in the past couple of years. Where are the architecturally significant buildings? Where, even, is the development of a distinctive Perth style?

Great architecture is often controversial. The Sydney Opera House, Paris s Louvre pyramid and Barcelona s Guggenheim Museum all attracted scathing criticism when proposed. Today they are admired as iconic buildings, regarded with pride by their cities, and attracting large numbers of tourists. Perth should expect buildings of this stature.

Unfortunately, Perth is suffering from policy paralysis in too many areas. This goes beyond stopping people from shopping when they like or being able to get a drink after the theatre or while spending a lazy Sunday afternoon reading the newspaper. To revitalise Perth, we need to begin with the laws and regulations holding it back.