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Downsizing way of the future

CROWDED HOUSE: Aerial view of development on the Northern Rivers.
CROWDED HOUSE: Aerial view of development on the Northern Rivers.

FORGET your media room, your second lounge, your big yard and your 16 bathrooms, the homes of 2036 are going to shrink.

John Nicolson of McGrath Real Estate said the region would have to look at smaller dwellings as it tried to cram in an extra 70,000 people along the coast and manage rising house prices.

New State Government forecasts predict Ballina Shire’s population will grow 39 per cent between 2006 and 2036 to a whopping 56,200 residents, making it the Northern Rivers second-most populous council area.

The figures predict Byron Shire’s numbers will soar 44pc to 44,300, while the Tweed’s population explodes by 59pc to nearly 132,000 people.

At the same time, the State Plan for the Northern Rivers, which looks at housing areas out to 2031, acknowledges hard limits on the amount of developable land available.

Ballina Shire is relatively well placed to cope with the new boom, with the Cumbalum area stretching from Ballina’s northern tip to Ross Lane and the area around Wollongbar already being developed for housing.

Byron Shire is in a much more precarious position. It’s developable land is restricted to a few small pockets around Bangalow and the Belongil Fields site on Ewingsdale Road.

Byron Mayor Jan Barham has said there is little scope to increase that land. Much of what remains across the shire is either flood-prone, environmentally sensitive or exposed to rising sea levels brought on by climate change.

Fitting the roughly 10,000 people represented in the predicted 44pc spike could only be accommodated by much higher density housing than the town is used too now – although she said that would not have to mean high-rise development.

Mr Nicolson said the nature of population movement in Australia meant there was little point trying to ‘cap’ populations in a community, that just led to greater spikes in property prices.

The way forward was smaller homes that would both fit in the extra people coming to the region and help manage prices.

“We have built (the world’s) biggest houses in Australia,” he said.

“We have to have a mindset change. ... The size of our houses has to come down.”

That meant more two bedroom homes, an end to redundant rooms, such as second lounges or media rooms, and an end to the big backyard.

“We don’t need huge backyards – but we do need more open space and parks. That’s the compromise – if you have people living more closely together there has to be more open space.”

Paul Deegan of LJ Hooker Lismore, where the State Government predicts little population growth, said the inland centres could also accommodate more people by offering more developable land to the housing market there.

Mr Deegan said the demand for blocks in Lismore was heavily influenced by the number and type of blocks on offer. It was no coincidence that the city’s best year for growth over the past decade coincided with the year the council and the State Government allowed 1000 new blocks onto the market.

Do that again and Lismore’s population would leap again, he said.

We don’t need huge backyards – but we do need more open space and parks. That’s the compromise – if you have people living more closely together there has to be more open space 



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