Should councils second-guess household arrangements?

There doesn’t seem to be a caretaker period for the currently underway (by postal ballot) Melbourne City Council elections, because amidst the large quantity of campaign materials from the candidates for Lord Mayor came a letter advising me of a plan to restrict to one the number carspaces in new residental developments in Carlton.

I’m not sure what any of the candidates think about this proposal. Just as Krystian Seibert (getting his second mention in less than a week) argues convincingly against minimum car spaces, I don’t think there is adequate justification for a maximum number. While it is true, as the letter points out, that there is good public transport in inner Melbourne, that’s only useful if residents don’t have to travel anywhere else.

It also assumes that households are interdependent members of the same family likely to travel together. That may be true out in the suburbs, but in the inner city there are lot of group households where people share the rent and bills but live otherwise separate lives.

The effect of this proposal will be to push up the rent of older dwellings that do have multiple car spaces, forcing group households who can’t afford the higher rents to move further out from the city. Some of them will then drive back in, reintroducing the traffic problems this policy will supposedly ease and putting more pressure on parking. It will steer population change in favour of singles and couples who can do with one car.

With appropriately priced street parking, the solution to this is just to leave it to the market. There are people (like me) who don’t have a car and would buy an apartment that had no parking (my empty car space under the building costs me thousands in interest and body corporate fees). Other people will genuinely need two car spaces. It is not up to the council to try to steer Carlton towards certain household types or residents who don’t need to travel out of the inner area.

13 Responses to “Should councils second-guess household arrangements?

  • 1
    john cramer
    November 23rd, 2008 10:12

    Public transport can be dandy if you are young and fit.
    If you have trouble walking try getting on and off a bus. There are lots of old people who are totally reliant on their cars.

  • 2
    Sinclair Davidson
    November 23rd, 2008 10:33

    When you move into a suburb, you join a community …. :)

  • 3
    johno
    November 23rd, 2008 17:55

    There are a lot of young and middle aged people reliant on cars because public transport can’t meet most of your transport needs.

  • 4
    Sinclair Davidson
    November 23rd, 2008 20:02

    my empty car space under the building costs me thousands in interest and body corporate fees

    Why don’t you rent it out?

  • 5
    Andrew Norton
    November 23rd, 2008 20:36

    I did for a while, but they moved. There seem to be a few empty spots so it may not be a lucrative option.

  • 6
    Russell
    November 23rd, 2008 21:46

    Why are they proposing it then? Is it because population density is rising, and the existing, old road infrastructure won’t be able to handle more and more cars? If that’s the case it probably makes sense to plan to not have the area stuffed up by too many cars.

  • 7
    Andrew Norton
    November 24th, 2008 06:17

    Russell – They claim it is ‘required to reduce the negative economic, social and environmental impacts of traffic and parking’.

    But no evidence of any kind is provided. What proportion of new dwellings have multiple car spaces? We aren’t told. The side streets in Carlton are not congested, and the net addition to traffic on the major roads of new dwellings would be trivial compared to existing volumes, most of which would come from other parts of the city (inlcuding, as I noted, in future people forced out of the inner city by planning regulations).

  • 8
    conrad
    November 24th, 2008 06:43

    I know when I was living in Sydney, there were even weirder regulations (they may well still exist) — I believe there were limits on the minimum size and number of bedrooms that apartments within a given block could have, so you could never find single bedroom apartments to live in in most areas (including next to some universities!). This is of course crazy given demographic trends and the lack of housing which Sydney (and now Melbourne) always seem to experience.

  • 9
    conrad
    November 24th, 2008 06:46

    Russell & Andrew: An alternative to the car problem would be to get rid of free public parking, as is done in many big cities in the world. Once you have to pay the real cost of parking, people quickly give up on the idea of having a car. If you also have a cheap taxi service (like most parts of Asia), the only real reason for most people to have a car is so they can show it to their friends.

  • 10
    Andrew Norton
    November 24th, 2008 06:58

    Conrad – Yes, you are right. I linked to Krystian’s piece on parking for this reason, and he has also done complementary work on taxi reform.

    I haven’t had a car for 15 years. Initially when I first moved to Sydney I could not afford one. Now I could, but I would rather spend the money on books and travel. But that’s only possible because of good public transport and a reasonably reliable taxi system (albeit an expensive one). If I lived in Canberra, I would have to own a car as they don’t have good public transport and their taxis are slow and unreliable.

  • 11
    Rafe
    November 24th, 2008 08:51

    Taking up Conrad’s comment on cars in Asia, a man who ran a Mercedes dealership in Hong Kong said there was not room on the roads if all the cars went out at the same time. One of his filthy rich clients bought three cars in three years, asked why he was turning them over so fast, didn’t he like them, the man replied that he each time he took on a new mistress he bought her a new Merc.

  • 12
    Russell
    November 24th, 2008 11:43

    Not convinced. There could be other reasons for not wanting the number of cars to rise, especially in an older suburb: noise, danger to children, pedestrians and cyclists (assuming roads are narrow, SUV’s are reversing out of small lots etc).

    I can think of cases where the local council should plan for household type. I grew up in a suburb which has large houses on large lots – beach on one side, golf course on another, big park on another; there is not one single apartment or ‘villa’ in the suburb. Now the original inhabitants are in their 80s and would like to move to smaller units in that area – where their friends are, where they are known at the shops, doctors etc. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for the council to release some land in small lots and restrict the buildings to single storey, smaller units? That way there would be a housing type suitable for those elderly residents.

  • 13
    Tim Wilson
    November 24th, 2008 14:43

    Andrew,

    Interesting, I have heard about this decision while out doorknocking. It was obviously made by the previous Council. I am not sure what prompted this decision. But I can tell you that McMullin-Wilson are advocating for transport options. Unlike most candidates we are not simply advocating for less cars on the road. We believe in transport options – which includes recognising that people need cars and they need to be accommodated, while improving the infrastructure to promote transport choice. Including bicycle storage facilities in the CBD etc. Not sure what prompted the decision to remove the second parking permit from homes. But certainly happy to look at it should I get into Town Hall.