Property Australia

Arabella Rohde on planning for growth

Karen Jamal Karen Jamal April 13, 2021

Canberra must deliver 12 houses a day for the next 20 years to keep pace with population growth. Can the planning system keep up? We ask the Property Council’s new ACT division president, Arabella Rohde.

Lendlease’s senior development manager, Rohde was elected the Property Council’s first female president for the ACT in March, stepping into the shoes of the Village Building Company’s chief executive officer Travis Doherty.140421 - Story 1 - Arabella Rohde

Rohde has more than 20 years’ industry experience behind her, the last 12 in the nation’s capital. She has spent the last two years as the Property Council’s ACT vice president and has chaired the residential and planning committee for eight years.

Rohde is passionate about planning and says her focus during her term will be to “strike the right balance between economic recovery and important reforms to the planning system that enhance Canberra’s competitiveness and boosts employment”.

An estimated 10,000 jobs were lost in Canberra during the height of the pandemic, although the ACT Government estimates that employment growth will reach four per cent for the year to June. Population growth in the ACT fell from 8,000 a year pre-Covid to around 3,400 in 2020.

But the ACT is still expected to welcome an additional 170,000 people over the next two decades, growing to 589,000 residents. According to the ACT Government’s most recent planning strategy, published in 2018, an additional 100,000 new homes will be needed, 70 per cent of those in existing suburbs.

Canberra can build on its reputation for quality of life, but to ensure the city does not erode housing affordability – a key metric of quality of life – improvements are required to planning, land supply, infrastructure, tax and housing policies, she says.

“Canberra may miss opportunities to deliver more affordable housing, respond to emerging trends and meet new urban challenges. The lifecycle of a project is long, but at the rate of change our planning system iterates, we won’t keep up with the challenges ahead.

“We need a planning system that encourages innovation and collaboration – one that has all the safeguards in place to ensure quality outcomes but that also supports great ideas. It’s not about bending the rules, but about having a flexible framework that encourages innovation.”

To “iterate and innovate”, the ACT needs a more “holistic” planning and development system where the ACT Government and industry work in closer partnership to translate proposals into approvals and “diversify housing choices and property outcomes”.

Rohde was struck by the different approach to planning in some of Europe’s most dynamic and progressive cities – Berlin, Copenhagen and Prague – during a Property Council study tour a few years ago. These cities harness their urban system holistically between private and government sectors to deliver on a strong social agenda, “whether that’s affordable housing or seniors’ accommodation,” she says.

“I was impressed with how these cities approached planning, infrastructure and urban systems from an innovation perspective, rather than precautionary approach and trying to avoid the worst-case scenario.”

Rohde says such partnership approaches are possible in the ACT. She points to Winyu House, which picked up the ACT's top property honour in 2018, the RLB ACT Development of the Year. Rohde was the project manager on the Gungahlin-based project, delivered under a unique partnership model between the ACT Government, owner KDN Group and Lendlease.

“On this project, everyone was on board with a commitment to improve the quality of buildings in our suburban town centres. On other projects, when there’s no common vision, we don’t see the same outcomes.”

Rohde was also a project manager on ISPT’s 4 National Circuit – another Property Council award winner – that is more urban village than public service office accommodation. “I really saw firsthand how a collaborative approach between planning and design can lead to quality outcomes.”

Rohde will be leading the local chapter of the Property Council at a time when industry confidence is rising rapidly.

According to the March 2021 ANZ/Property Council Survey, the national industry pulse-check, confidence has surged by 20 points since December. Sitting at 145 index points – when the national average is 142 and 100 is considered neutral – the ACT’s industry is more upbeat around forward work schedules, staffing levels and economic growth than just three months ago.

Rohde, too, is positive about the ACT’s property industry and its contribution to economic growth and quality of life. She recently saw this firsthand as residents of Lendlease’s new retirement living community at The Aerie in Narrabundah moved in.

“I saw how much they loved their new homes and had pride in their place. I love having a meaningful impact on people’s lives – and that’s what the property industry is all about. We don’t just create buildings and landmarks we create communities.”