Hobart’s economic turnaround has placed the city’s restrictive planning controls under scrutiny. How can Hobart grow up?
Building heights have been a vexed issue in Australia’s second-oldest city since Hobart City Council tried, unsuccessfully, to impose a 45-metre height cap on new buildings in 2018.
Hobart is no longer a sleepy city. The MONA Effect – sparked by the opening of the Museum of Old and New Art in 2011 – has transformed the city into tourist hotspot. More than half a billion tourism dollars flowed into the state last year – up 15 per cent year on year.
The city welcomed 3,300 new residents and the number of international students is also on the rise, accounting for 17 per cent of the student population, according to the University of Tasmania.
With a City Deal in the pipeline promising a host of projects, including a $450 million investment in a new centre for scientific and Antarctic research, Hobart is a city on the move.
“Hobart has transformed in recent years due to its economic growth, booming tourism and international student numbers,” explains Brian Wightman, Tasmanian executive director of the Property Council.
“This economic turnaround has created demand for new residential, hotel and commercial development – and has placed the city’s restrictive planning controls well and truly under scrutiny,” Wightman said.
“Hobart has been grappling with how to preserve the character of the city while meeting this demand which has manifested in the debate over building heights, especially in the CBD.”
Last week the Property Council released a detailed study by SGS Economics and Planning on the effect of building height limits on development in Hobart.
It modelled the potential return on investment for hypothetical developments in three Hobart CBD locations. Each location was assessed to measure its feasibility for commercial, hotel or residential development.
“In every scenario, reducing building heights would basically stop all three types of development on these sites,” Wightman says.
“These findings could equally be applied to other development sites across the city. The bottom line is that holding back building heights will also hold back much-needed investment and development to support Hobart’s growth.
“We need to achieve greater density in Hobart to meet the housing needs of the local population which have been under huge stress in recent years as demand has outstripped supply,” Wightman adds.
Rents in Hobart are cheaper only than Sydney and Canberra, climbing to $464 per week, according to the latest data from CoreLogic.
“Hobart’s student population is booming as the university grows, and visitor numbers are also growing rapidly as more people around Australia and overseas discover the delights of our southern-most capital city.”
Wightman says Hobart needs a sensible approach to building heights that makes new development commercially viable while also protecting and enhancing the city’s unique urban landscape.
“Hobart has grown significantly over recent years. It has grown out, leading to more traffic woes for suburban commuters, but it also needs to grow up to ensure it continues to thrive in the future as a great place to live, work, study and visit,” Wightman concludes.