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Revisiting Melbourne's low-rise high-density project numbers

In November 2015 there was still a prevailing view that Melbourne only built skyscrapers the inner city and new sprawly suburbs on the fringe, with little 'low-rise high-density'.  During the same month, we published two articles which showed that 46% of all projects on the Urban Melbourne Project Database were residential in 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 level configurations.

At that time, there were 983 projects and now at the time of writing, there are 1,488 on the project database.  In November 2015, there were 208 projects with floor configurations consisting of 4 or less.  At the time of writing, there are now 441.  

In November 2015, 21% of all projects on the Urban Melbourne project database had 2, 3 or 4 levels; in August 2017 that proportion has grown to 29%.

Interestingly enough, in November 2015, when we combined the data for projects with 2, 3 or 4 as well as 5 or 6 levels we got a result of 453 projects - that is only 12 more projects than what is currently on the project database with 2, 3 or 4 levels.

November 2015 - 6 levels or less

Project Status Number of Projects Number of Dwellings
Planning Assessment 99 4175
Approved 97 3866
Registration and Sales 141 5116
Under Construction 116 4808
Total 453 17,965

In 20 months we've seen the number of projects in the 4 levels or less category double and revisiting the original article, many of the projects in the long-list have completely transitioned out of the database - as they're no longer a project, they're buildings.

In case you were wondering, I'm maintaining this split in project categories because those that have 4 or less levels will generally be located in the Residential Growth and General Residential Zones.  They are not by any means exclusive to these zones as a far deeper dive into the data will show but it's useful to illustrate that contrary to popular belief we have a sizeable development pipeline in the low-rise high-density space.  And it's clearly grown.

Likewise, I'm using 5 or 6 levels as an equivalence tool for buildings the anti-tower, euro-fetishists like to say we should be building more of - when they attempt to evoke positive emotions in their spiels, Paris or Barcelona are widely referred to and in turn they're generally talking about Eixample or the arrondissements within or just outside the Parisian boulevard périphérique

The likelihood of Melbourne razing entire suburbs and replicating anything like the monotonous low-rise high-density that is omnipresent in central and middle rings of European cities is as likely as me winning Powerball - we haven't rezoned entire suburbs, only corridors within them.  

Yet we do have the same scale of development in the pipeline.

We use the term 'levels' to remove the confusion with 'floors'. In Australia, we label the floor with the entry to the building as 'Ground' but when counting a building's floor total, the ground is the first floor - so, for example, a 6 level building has 1 ground floor plus 5 above.

August 2017 - 6 levels or less

Project Status Number of Projects Number of Dwellings
Planning Assessment 206 6799
Approved 200 6289
Registration and Sales 182 6138
Under Construction 172 7194
Total 760 26,420

As you can see, the 6 levels or less data has grown in raw numbers and as a proportion of the entire database: 51% of all projects have 6 or less levels versus 46% in November 2015.

The headline grabbers - the very large buildings like the skyscrapers still at various stages of the pipeline in the CBD - tend to hang around on the database for 3-4 years, but as our numbers are starting to illustrate, developers and by extension, the apartment market at the smaller-scale end of the spectrum, is accelerating.

I'll be reviewing these numbers once again next year - logic dictates that low-rise buildings can be approved, marketed and built (regardless of construction method) much faster than larger buildings - and in the context of Melbourne's record population growth, we're likely going to need a lot of rapidly-built new dwellings for the foreseeable future.

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