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Two out of every three Australians say they are concerned about the environment. As most of us live in cities a large part of this concern centres on where we live, and not just on protecting our natural and cultural heritage.
Sydney is one of the world's great cities, with exceptional natural beauty and a heritage of fine buildings both old and new.
Sydney is also home to four million people, whose quality of life depends on the ease with which the city meets our need to work, to play and to participate in the life of the community.
This discussion paper focuses on an important aspect of Sydney’s environment, the amenity of its housing stock. In particular it raises the emerging problem of poor amenity in strata title buildings, both commercial and residential.
The problem is a significant one because it has a bearing on the rejuvenation of the city and on the quality of life of residents in strata apartment buildings. Many of these buildings are now 40 years old, and their amenity will deteriorate over time unless issues such as maintenance and redevelopment are properly addressed.
The Premier of New South Wales, the Hon Bob Carr, opened the debate in 2000 on one aspect of improving the amenity of strata buildings, that is encouraging good design. Generally well-designed buildings enhance the standard of living of the community, and can be less costly to maintain over time than poorly designed buildings.
This discussion paper takes these concepts further and applies them to existing strata buildings and the opportunities for rejuvenation in the city. Specifically, the paper reviews the way in which the current strata title legislation inhibits the proper maintenance and rejuvenation of strata buildings and recommends changes to address these problems.
If strata buildings are to be the best they can be, then they must be more professionally managed. If the community’s needs are to be met then opportunities for renewal and redevelopment must be facilitated in a process that continues the central involvement of owners but in a more workable environment.
Decisions about a strata buildings maintenance and future are complex because more than one owner makes them. Together each of the owners shares the responsibility for the common property as well as their own unit or apartment. Yet owners’ corporations have little guidance on how to properly manage their property, leading to problems with declining amenity or unexpected maintenance costs. This problem can only increase as more strata buildings reach the age where they require extensive renovation and as more people move into strata developments.
The key idea developed in this discussion paper is that strata legislation needs to make better provision for the management of strata buildings throughout their life cycle - from initial occupation through to renovation or ultimate redevelopment. This builds on the approach to better design taken at the Premier’s Design Forum in March 2000 and by the Urban Design Advisory Committee (UDAC).
One opportunity created by the recommendations in this discussion paper is to rejuvenate low value, low amenity strata buildings. To the extent that better amenity improves the urban environment it may also reduce other indirect costs such as traffic congestion, crime, and unemployment.
The recommendations in this discussion paper would have no effect on existing heritage protections for strata buildings with historical values. These buildings would continue to be protected in the same way.
The paper is an initiative of the Property Council of Australia, with the expert assistance of strata title lawyers, Teys McMahon. We are seeking practical solutions to the problems of maintenance and renewal of strata buildings, and our hope is that it will stimulate debate on these issues and that the recommendations will gain the support of the community.
The Property Council believes that as the community develops a better understanding of planning for the long term management of strata buildings, there will be fewer disappointments and problems with declining amenity in the future. It is also essential to develop a sound, pro-active and practical solution to apply to all strata buildings, rather than having to fall back on ad hoc solutions as problems arise.