19 October 2022
I rise to speak on the Planning, Development and Infrastructure (Use of Vacant Land) Amendment Bill. In 2017, my predecessor, Mark Parnell, brought a similar bill to this one, at that time to find a public use for the vacant Le Cornu site. This revised bill seeks to address the housing crisis by allowing the government to step in and place temporary housing on vacant land in circumstances where the owner is unable or unwilling to undertake development.
The housing crisis continues to worsen in South Australia. Poor affordability, low availability and stagnating incomes have led us to a point where we regularly hear about people living in tents, in cars, on the streets or couch surfing. It is outrageous that we have residential and commercial land across our state that is being left vacant while people have no place to call home. In the CBD and the suburbs, we have several parcels of land that are left vacant with no imminent plans for development.
Sometimes land sits vacant because financing has fallen through and a developer has to abandon a project, but sometimes it is because a landowner is land banking, which is the practice of using an unused land asset to gain a return on investment with very few overheads or outlays. There is an example on Sturt Street here in the city. This block of land has remained vacant for at least seven years. Development applications have been submitted for this property over many years.
There is also of course the example of the old Le Cornu site, which sat vacant for almost 30 years. Indeed, during most of my lifetime that site on O'Connell Street has been vacant. It is of concern when you see prime land like this remaining vacant and government not taking any action and developers not being compelled to activate the land.
Under this bill, the government could take a statutory lease to use the land for a public purpose, including temporary housing. With over 17,000 people on the public housing waiting list, this solution would provide a supply of public homes quickly and easily until more permanent public homes could be built.
There are proven examples of this concept in other jurisdictions. The Victorian government entered a public-private partnership to use vacant land to deliver architecturally designed transportable dwellings for those who are experiencing homelessness, and the Harris Transportable Housing Project has already delivered 47 homes on underutilised land for residents. These homes are pet friendly, energy-efficient, affordable places for people to live privately and independently. Prefabricated homes can be installed in one day and easily removed when the land is ready for permanent development.
The Victorian example has received two awards from the Planning Institute of Australia for Best Planning Idea. We need innovative ideas like these to address our housing crisis. The need for housing is pressing. The solutions need to be swift and at scale. This bill unlocks unused land for the government, and that is land that is otherwise serving no useful purpose in our state.
This does not, of course, take the land away from the private owner. It is returned to the private landholder once a development application is lodged. My hope is that the government will support this bill and then utilise the land that is available to reduce the number of people on our public housing waitlist or, at the very least, reduce the number of people who are sleeping rough on our streets because I recognise that temporary housing is no solution or alternative to long-term permanent housing.
Surely, having people sleeping in portable homes is a better outcome than people being forced to sleep in tents, cars or caravans. It is not good enough that people are sleeping rough, couch surfing or having to live in their cars. It is our duty, as members of this place, to take action to address this crisis. I urge members to support the bill.