Guest post – Old Queenslanders in a New City

This is a guest post from my friend and colleague Brad Rogers, who is also Secretary of the Queensland Branch of the Economic Society of Australia. Views expressed are Brad’s own, and are not necessarily shared by me, our employer or the Economic Society.

Old Queenslanders in a New City

Recently, Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said:

“A leading destination for business and investment, major events and international education, Brisbane is rapidly emerging as a diverse and energised global city with a $135 billion economy.”

Everyone in Brisbane has seen the Old Queenslanders in and around the city. However, you may not know these old buildings are protected by Council regulations. In October of 1995, Council introduced ‘Gray Tape’, a blanket layer of protection over suburbs where the majority of homes had been built before the end of World War II.

It is difficult to see how Brisbane can be a ‘global city’ when most of the population are forced to live in 100 year old wooden boxes. The argument is the old houses are historical and have ‘character’. Well horse and buggies are historical and have character but we are not forced to drive them to work every day. We have museums for these things.

When the rules were made to stop people knocking down the Old Queenslanders, Brisbane was still a small city. Now Brisbane is growing up and needs room for people to live in the city to be close to work. Maintaining the restrictions on development of land close to the CBD of Brisbane is pushing the price of each dwelling up to levels seen in New York and London. Land is limited by nature, but the number of dwellings on the land is limited by Council.

As an example the West End average house price for a renovated Old Queenslander is about $1 million. There are about 1,500 Old Queenslanders in West End at this time.  If half of these houses were able to be developed into high-rise residential apartments, at one apartment building per 6 houses, that would provide 125 new apartment buildings. There would be around 50 apartments in each building allowing an extra 6,250 families or about 15,500 people to live close to the city. The other half could be turned into townhouses and new parks. This could be repeated all around our city, brining a cosmopolitan lifestyle to our little city.

New apartment buildings cost about $30 million to build. Allowing developers to build 125 new buildings would provide a large boost to the economy of about $3.7 billion. Then all the families moving in to the new homes would buy furniture and spend in shops, providing much needed economic activity for the city. This sort of development could happen in Paddington, Red Hill, Spring Hill, New Farm, Highgate Hill, Kangaroo Point and East Brisbane. That is $30 billion added to the Queensland economy with no Government funding required.

Fewer people to move from outer suburbs will reduce the pressure on public transport, roads and the environment. More people living in the city would give the Government more money to spend on big events, arts and other entertainment.

Restrictions on building residential high-rise buildings in Brisbane have caused increased costs and long travel times to work, and they have reduced our standard of living and the growth of the economy. The Council restrictions mean fewer people can live close to work and, therefore, we need to pay for more roads, trains, buses and tunnels. The increased travel times to and from work take parents away from their families, increase pollution and reduce our productivity. If we cannot go up, we must go out, and that causes urban sprawl that impacts heavily on the environment.

If Brisbane really wants to become a World City, then we must stop listening to the vocal privileged few who are living in little wooden houses in the middle of the CBD and start developing new stylish homes for our workers. Removing the Grey Tape would allow development of Brisbane where six Old Queenslanders could make way for a block of units which could house hundreds of families.

If we want to keep some of the Old Queenslanders, let’s put them in a historic village out of the operational city of Brisbane. The people who like the old things can go to the historic village and ride horses around on the weekends. We can show our children the funny little houses we lived in before Brisbane was a real city.

Brad Rogers, 15 November 2013

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5 Responses to Guest post – Old Queenslanders in a New City

  1. william says:

    As a student at QUT who is just finishing up his town planning degree, I could not agree with this more. It was very unpopular with the majority of the other students though, who feel that the culture should be protected forever and always. I think we’ll find the protection of old Queenslanders will fall when homelessness and overburdened infrastructure on the fringe of Brisbane’s CBD becomes a catastrophe. until then, people just like pretty old houses.

  2. Brad, just listened to you on the radio. Big assumption here that somehow heritage protection is a binding constraint on the rate of new housing development in the city. Which begs the question of why there are any undeveloped site near the city – what are these damn developers waiting for! Don’t they know there’s a housing shortage!

    The point being that there are thousands of cities all over the world that have far more restrictive development, even ‘global cities’ like, say London, Paris, Berlin etc.

    It’s a bit like saying that driving on the left restricts road space. Well, no it just says that conflicting uses must be separated – it’s not a limit on any particular use.

  3. Bradley Rogers says:

    Hi Cam good to see you are listening. If the Council says the land near the city is not able to be developed into more housing than there is now then that is a constraint on supply. London and other cities have the same problem on a much larger scale. The way they keep operating is by the government spending others money on supply of faster and more transport to move workers in to the CBD. In London people think it is normal to travel for over one hour to work every day. In Brisbane we think half an hour is a lot. The cost of living pressure in London is much worse than here in Brisbane but we could catch up if we maintain silly restrictions on development. The cities you talk of have very high taxes that support large public transport infrastructure. We should learn from their mistakes and move to a more rational model.

    Developers are confident, as I am, that the Council will act as a monopoly and continue to restrict supply. With continued restrictions the price of land near the CBD continues to grow faster than other areas. It is in their interest to hold land until the price is high enough to provide a large profit. If supply was allowed to increase continuously then the price would not move up as fast as it is and people would not hold land for profit as much as they do.

    It has nothing to do with conflicting users. The restriction on building high rise residential apartments does limit the use of the land. It is about the quantity of dwellings allowed on any particular piece of land. Allowing more dwellings on land close to the city increases supply to the natural level bringing the price down to the natural market rate. The lowering of dwelling prices will reduce wage demands, prices of goods and services and increase the disposable income of residence. A lower cost of living will attract more people to our city and increase economic development.

    A good example of this situation is in mining towns where the Council restricts supply when demand goes up. Houses in towns far from large population centers are going for over $1M. This is not due to the cost of the house or the lack of land but due to the restriction on supply by the monopoly Council.

    I am sure you understand these concepts and will have some great inputs as I know you are a gifted economist. Just think on it for a while. Happy to talk.


  4. Pingback: Old Queenslanders in a New City | BJREconomics

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