Property Australia

Future leader champions density done well

PROPERTY AUSTRALIA December 10, 2019

Australia’s planning systems must evolve as “complex city-shaping projects” become the norm, says Urbis associate director Sean Morrison, winner of the Stan Perron Future Leader of the Year for 2019.

The Property Council presented six prizes to rising property stars in late November as part of its WA Future Leaders awards. Morrison took home the award named in honour of Australian Property Hall of Fame member, the late Stan Perron.

Sean MorrisonAn “unapologetic advocate” for the property industry, Morrison says he is driven by a desire to change a system that is preventing Australia’s communities from reaching their potential.

“If the goal of government is to facilitate investment and enable community prosperity then attitudes to planning need to change,” Morrison says.

“Really good development proposals can die a death of a thousand cuts through regulation and bureaucracy. There needs to be a better understanding from policymakers and regulators of the cumulative effect. The sheer cost, time and frustration prevents some projects from ever getting off the ground. Larger companies can cover the cost, however I worry about the small and medium-sized developers that can’t.”

Morrison specialises in large, complex development proposals and understands the frustrations felt by developers “when the planning system freezes because something isn’t standard”. There are plenty of good people doing great things in government, he says, however an attitude of ‘how can we make this work’ needs to be the standard.

“The easiest thing in the planning system is to build a house on a single block. But as Australia’s cities grow, we can expect more complex city-shaping proposals. The system must be more responsive. Governments should aspire for a more consistent system across the country – helping talent and capital move more freely around Australia. The ultimate outcome would be a single pathway for all government approvals for planning and non-planning matters. The system should be customer, not process, centric.”

In 2008, while still at university, Morrison co-founded FuturePerth, a “voice for progress” that championed density done well. The association was established to support the Elizabeth Quay project, and to create an alternative narrative to well-publicised NIMBY sentiment.

“There was a disconnect between what I saw in the media – exceptionally negative, obstructive and hysterical commentary on infill and urban renewal – and what people in the community, especially young people, were saying. They wanted more vibrancy in Perth and were supportive of activating what was essentially grass paddocks and a highway.”

Morrison’s forum helped previously silent citizens find their voice. Elizabeth Quay, meanwhile, has since attracted 16 million visitors, $320 million in land sales and $2.2 billion in private development proposals and won national acclaim at the 2019 Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation and Excellence Awards.

What’s Morrison’s advice to other rising stars?

“Have something to say and to find projects that further your passion. The best way to flourish is to be involved with projects, clients and outcomes that you are passionate about. That will lead to you doing your best work.”

Morrison was chosen as the Stan Perron Future Leader of the Year from a formidable field of category winners: Tristan Morgan, Cox Architecture (design), Christine Johnston, JLL (management), Andrew Tandianus, KPMG SGA (transactions), Chanel Ridley, DevelopmentWA (advisory) and Mariam Yaqub, DevelopmentWA (development and construction).

Property Council executive director Sandra Brewer applauded each young leader for “contributing to a conversation about how we can create better designed, smarter cities”.