Changing the conversation on building

Cairns may sprawl some 50km (or more) between Gordonvale and Palm Cove

Cairns may sprawl some 50km (or more) between Gordonvale and Palm Cove but for all that distance, we're rather constrained when it comes to actual, usable land.


Its wonderful to be bordered by the beauty of rainforested mountains and sandy beaches, but keeping them both means accepting a number of compromises on where you can build a home. Take out land for agriculture, land in flood plains (plenty) and our hillslopes and it starts to look pretty skinny, which is one of the reasons that we're looking down the barrel of a land shortage that will strike us sooner rather than later.


There are two solutions. One is going up rather than out, with the return of the highrise. Seems simple, but the economics just don't work for general housing in our market. Units might be the affordable option in plenty of other places in the world, but the current construction realities make it a premium, even luxury product here.


The other, as unpopular as it might seem, is making do with less land (and home) than we've become used to. From quarter acre blocks, to 800m2, to 600m2 and now lot sizes 400m2 (or smaller), the market has moved somewhat but there is still room to change. One of the main criticisms against the current crop of small lots is that you could put your hand out the window in your home and high five the neighbour in theirs. To get past that, we need to look at not just a land downsize, but a house one too.


So used to 4 bed, 2 bath, 2 car as the default, we are going to need to start building a wider range of detached homes. Not only would this then suit buyers at different life stages, but it would also provide a more affordable entry to the market. The lifestyle advantages of a unit, but the cost benefit of single level construction! Smaller footprints also mean lower maintenance, lower insurance costs and avoiding the costs and complexities of body corporate living (though they have their moments).


It won't be for everyone, but between availability and affordability challenges, the status quo isn't either. Valuations early on will hold back the private market, but there is opportunity for government to lead the way, and tackle public housing at the same time. It has to start somewhere, right