It is easy to have a knee-jerk reaction to the need for housing on the Northern Rivers at the cost of both the environment and the amenity of the region.
Yes, there is a need for housing, but it is important to remember that the State government has driven this crisis by facilitiating the short-term holiday letting (STHL) industry and ignoring long-term planning structures that set aside areas of housing for long-term residents. Before the craze of Airbnb and other short stay housing platforms, for a house that was in a residential area to be converted into a ‘holiday let’ or ‘bed n breakfast’ it had to, among other things, get an approved development application (DA), pay business rates, supply parking and meet health and safety standards.
The process of getting a DA meant that other residents in the area had a right to comment either positively or negatively on the potential impacts of turning long-term homes into short-term accommodation and the impact this might have on the location and its amenity. For councils it meant that there were extra rates and other restrictions in place to ensure that they could manage the development for the residential environments to the benefit of residents, consistent with the long-term strategies of the regions they managed.
The advent of short-term holiday letting platforms ended council’s ability to effectively manage the balance between short- and -long term rentals in their local government areas (LGAs). Supported by the State government these platforms have successfully removed restrictions to their operation in residential areas. This has seen continuing pressure build with rising rents as more and more housing is bought up by investors and moved out of the long-term rental market into the highly profitable holiday letting market.
This, now combined with recent flooding and thousands of people being made homeless in the ‘unprecedented’ flooding, has seen the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation (NRRC) being put in place by the State government. There are significant and major decisions that need to be made across the region in relation to how we respond to flooding, create housing, and manage the future development of the region. But must not be done at the cost of what so many have fought for, for so long.
The State government failed to support local councils who tried to stop the move from long-term housing to STHL. It would be wrong to compound that error by forcing ugly, high-density housing on LGAs as part of the flood response.
The Northern Rivers should not become a developers’ playground with things like height restrictions disregarded, building on all available green spaces pushed through, and high impact, high-density buildings thrown up. This should not facilitate developers who are seeking to get around long-term environmental and amenity regulations that have been put in place for good reason.
At the end of the day it needs to be a community-driven process that enhances our living, green and environmentally sensitive spaces. Perhaps the first step the State government really needs to take is to reinstate the residential areas for residents and drive out the profiteering carpet baggers who have descended on the region to suck out every last sou because really, our streets are not made of gold, and locals shouldn’t be driven out by the greed of developers and opportunists who have been preying on the region for so long.
Aslan Shand, acting editor