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Is Melbourne's apartment boom concentrated in the inner city?

The correct answer to that question is: it's complicated.

On one hand if you look solely at the number of dwellings in developments, they are very much concentrated in the City of Melbourne + Fishermans Bend Renewal Area and the traditional high-density areas of inner Melbourne: Cities of Yarra, Stonnington and Port Phillip.

On the other hand if you are looking at the number of individual projects, regardless of the number of dwellings contained with in them, then the balance shifts. The centre of the city plus the traditional high-density areas of inner Melbourne make up 53% of all development projects within the Urban Melbourne project database, with the balance spread throughout what we deem to be the 'emerging' high-density areas of Melbourne and all other outer Local Government Areas.

Let's explain.

At the time of writing there are 805 projects listed in the project database and they can be broken into predominant use:

Use Number of Projects
Residential 724
Mixed Use* 49
Commercial 28
Hotel 4

* Mixed use buildings are where there is substantial other uses, for instance a residential tower with hotel suites or service apartments. Residential regularly feature retail or food outlet space but the primary tower levels are of a single use and therefore recorded as Residential.

If we exclude the commercial an hotel-only buildings we're left with 773 buildings which feature, or will feature, dwellings for sale depending on how far the project progresses through the development cycle.

The traditional high-density areas

Next we have dwelling count data for the majority of residential / mixed-use projects and that totals 91,568 for the entire metropolitan area. This is for projects that are either at Planning Assessment, Approved, at Sales or Under Construction. We can break the City of Melbourne plus the three LGAs which are traditionally high-density areas of Melbourne down geographically as follows:

Local Government Area / Precinct Number of Projects Number of Dwellings
Melbourne + Fishermans Bend Urban renewal area 194 42,585
Yarra 84 6,154
Stonnington 74 5,667
Port Phillip (excluding Fishermans Bend) 56 4,443
Total 408 (53% of metro) 58,849 (64% of metro)

There is little doubt that Central Melbourne is seeing the lion's share of medium and high density development, especially when it comes to purely looking at the number of dwellings. Those four local governments are generally located with a 5km radius of Melbourne's GPO (with the exception of Stonnington: it does stretch much further east, but as most of its development activity is concentrated in the western half within the 5km radius I've included it in the above table).

The emerging high-density areas and hotspots

Next we have the 'emerging' high-density areas. They're characterised with existing population densities with roughly 4,000 people square kilometre or less located beyond the inner 5km radius of the GPO.

Local Government Area Number of Projects Number of Dwellings
Maribyrnong 30 6,006
Moreland 52 4,702
Darebin 41 3,382
Manningham 24 2,998
Whitehorse 32 2,617
Boroondara 39 2,305
Moonee Valley 29 2,111
Total 247 (32% of metro) 24,121 (26% of metro)

The main conclusion I draw from the numbers in the emerging areas is that Melbourne's north and immediate west are the biggest development hotspots outside the inner-city, away from where the majority of people currently live in metropolitan Melbourne. The arc from Maribyrnong to Darebin has just as much development in the pipeline as Yarra, Stonnington and Port Phillip (excluding Fishermans Bend) combined.

While Whitehorse is very much an established middle-ring suburban area, the urban-friendly infrastructure - high-frequency rail and a solid connecting bus network - puts the LGA firmly in the emerging area which might over time pip Manningham for clubhouse leader in the eastern suburbs.

The remainder

118 projects and 9,798 medium and high-density dwellings is nothing to sneeze at; just ask cities like Adelaide or Canberra.

Greater Dandenong with just under 10% of the near-on 10,000 dwellings in the development pipeline can only increase from here given it is now either entirely surrounded by suburban areas or green belts.

Conclusion

It's tempting to say yes, Melbourne's apartment boom is concentrated in the inner city, but as the data shows it depends on the primary metric in use when attempting to draw a conclusion and it also depends on what your definition of the inner city is.

A final thing to take away from the data tables listed above is that while many of the LGAs in the emerging list straddle the inner-city and middle ring of suburbs, there is an enormous pipeline of development work contained in these areas.

Yes, the inner-city is a beast of a thing but it would be idiotic to completely ignore what's hapenning beyond 5km from the GPO; these areas are richest when it comes to existing residential amenity, services and infrastructure, and they're the areas which have multiple structure plan reviews underway and have likewise undergone planning zone reform.

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