Ballarat City population boom: new balance required

408 Drummond Street at the former RSL Bowls Club site. Picture: Luka Kazularic
408 Drummond Street at the former RSL Bowls Club site. Picture: Luka Kazularic

Ballarat could become a sprawling nightmare if vacant land within the city’s boundary is left empty in favour of new estates.

Housing developments at Lucas, Delacombe and Ballymanus, otherwise known as ‘greenfield’ sites have been popular with buyers, but are fast running out of vacant land.

RMIT Environment and Planning Professor Michael Buxton said dumping more people on the fringes of the city would have dire consequences for its future.

“Why is it good for people to be living kilometres from any services, no public transport, when they could be living much closer to services to towns,” he said.

“What some of councils are doing is taking the lazy way out.

“They are rezoning land on the fringe to rival some of the worst housing estates in Melbourne.”

An RMIT study completed by Prof Buxton found a 50 to 70 per cent increase in Ballarat’s population could be entirely accommodated in new developments, also known as ‘infill’ sites, in existing suburbs.

The study allowed for heritage overlays that prevent the city’s historic buildings from being replaced with higher density housing.

It also found creating more apartments or sub-diving block to have more dwellings would add more diversity and options to the housing market.

Why is it good for people to be living kilometres from any services, no public transport, when they could be living much closer to services to towns.

RMIT Environment and Planning Professor Michael Buxton

Ballarat City Council acting development and planning director James Guy said the municipality had a goal to increase its infill development.

“Traditionally in the past Ballarat has had 60 per cent growth in greenfield sites, 40 per cent infill, which is impressive in regional city terms,” he said.

“By 2040 we want to have shifted that to a 50-50 mix when half of all new dwellings would be built in an established area.”

“If they come from Melbourne, they don’t expect a quarter-acre block. Having any backyard at all, (is good), even just tree or four metres.”

Mr Guy said the market infill in Ballarat was yet to take off, but council expected it to soon reach a tipping point as Melbourne became over-saturated with apartments.

“It will increasingly stack up financially for these developments to go ahead,” he said.

Meeting housing demand by filling holes in the city

Don Hanlon was among the buyers who snapped up townhouses from the subdivision of the former Ballarat Servicemen’s Memorial Bowling Club site on Drummond Street North. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

Don Hanlon was among the buyers who snapped up townhouses from the subdivision of the former Ballarat Servicemen’s Memorial Bowling Club site on Drummond Street North. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

By mid-2017 new residents were making the shift to take up housing opportunities in the 30-townhouse Drummond Street North site which is already almost at capacity.

Among those who have bought into the inner city living concept is real estate agent Don Hanlon, who purchased two of the townhouses with the view moving into one when he retires.

The 60-year-old said subdivided blocks such as the Drummond Street North example would need to become more common as the city expands to a population close to 200,000, particularly when rehousing older people.

It’s vital to the growth of Ballarat we have this diverse kind of development

Real estate agent Don Hanlon

While the majority of Ballarat’s population growth has traditionally occurred in expansion suburbs, this is expected to even out as the city’s population doubles. 

“Traditionally these sorts of things have been hard to get going and getting approval has been quite a challenge,” Mr Hanlon said.

“But it’s obviously been recognised that there’s a huge need for it.

“The location makes it a more attractive proposition for people as they’re older because they’re not as mobile but they want to be as close as they can be to infrastructure.  

“It’s vital to the growth of Ballarat we have this diverse kind of development.”

Growth ahead of schedule

Aerial view of the burgeoning Lucas estate in 2014.

Aerial view of the burgeoning Lucas estate in 2014.

Large blocks of land for family homes are likely to remain a key feature of Ballarat City’s housing growth for the next two decades.

The success of estates such as Lucas, where infrastructure was built ahead of homes, has fueled the need for more housing earlier than expected.

This growth was driven by a two per cent population increase as the Melbourne housing market becomes less affordable for families.

Ballarat City mayor Samantha McIntosh said council had already identified Mount Rowan and Ballarat East as two areas for more housing in the next two decades.

“We talked about Mount Rowan happening in 10 years and then we talked about Ballarat East happening in around 20 years,” she said.

“With all of this work it is really changing our growth patterns and time frames, we are in a strategic planning space at the moment, reviewing a lot of those forecast areas and how we will map them out.”

Development group Integra has overseen estates at Lucas and Ballymanus.

Integra land development director Nick Grylewicz said council had shown growth could be well managed.

“To a lot of people growth can be scary, and be seen as sprawl,” he said,

“Unmanaged growth is sprawl, so well planned, well managed growth is how we want to grow Ballarat.”

Unmanaged growth is sprawl, so well planned, well managed growth is how we want to grow Ballarat

Integra land development director Nick Grylewicz

Mr Grylewicz said the biggest concern for residents would be increased traffic congestion created by the growing population.

“I know council is looking at Mair Street upgrades and Ballarat Link Road around the city, but we need to get onto those,” he said.

“Ballarat is tricky because here are only four or five arterials into town, so you get some bottlenecks.

“Things like a Buninyong bypass, we need to be looking at those upgrades early.”

RMIT Environment and Planning Professor Michael Buxton said the city’s outer suburbs would not have the same services provided to established homes.

“It is up to councils to intervene in this and take responsibility for providing more affordable diverse housing closer to services, and they are not doing that,” he said.

“(In these estates) you have houses separated from retail, these are car based suburbs. They are badly designed and require people to be dependent on cars to get around.”

He also said there was no evidence to suggest the market for higher density developments was not viable.

“The usual explanation is that the developers and councils are only giving people what they want,” he said.

“There is absolutely no evidence that people want this, it is a developer determined model of the future form (for cities).”

Amenity attraction of booming suburbs

Brian McGurk with son Felix at the family's new home in Ballymanus, one of Ballarat's newest suburbs in the city's booming western growth zone. Picture: Kate Healy

Brian McGurk with son Felix at the family's new home in Ballymanus, one of Ballarat's newest suburbs in the city's booming western growth zone. Picture: Kate Healy

When former Alfredton resident Brian McGurk was on the hunt for a new home, Ballarat’s booming western growth zone was a logical option.  

With four teenagers to house, space was at the top of the 55-year-old’s priority list when searching for a new home.

He became one of the first residents of the new Ballymanus estate when he and the family shifted in mid-September.  

In time he will be joined the thousands of others who have chosen to take up residence in the urban expansion zone.  

While infrastructure has in the past been a deterrent for moving into a new suburb, Mr McGurk said the council and developer plans for the area were promising. 

“The house is near the likes of the swimming pool, the netball centre and the Minerdome,” Mr McGurk said of the property’s location.

“If Ballarat City Council work in hand with the developer they will make sure they have the infrastructure in place like schools and supermarkets.”

Along with suburbs such as Lucas, Bonshaw and Winter Valley, Ballarat City Council’s 2012 Ballarat West Precinct Structure Plan sets out a plan to add 36,000 new residents to the west of the city in more than 14,000 houses in the next 25 years. 

As the city’s population swells towards 200,000 similar urban expansion is expected to take place to the north towards Mount Rowan as well as to the east.