A proposal to allow for more residential housing in town centres across the Bega Valley has been welcomed, but there is a call for additional plans to tackle the Sapphire Coast’s housing crisis.
Bega Valley Shire Council wants feedback on the proposed amendment that would allow for a wider range of housing types in town centres.
Housing in the shire has been previously reported as being at ‘crisis point’. Council’s draft Affordable Housing Strategy states that 19 per cent of homes in the shire are used as short-term accommodation; only 19 per cent of occupied homes are privately rented; and only three per cent are rented as social housing.
The strategy states there will be a predicted need for almost 2500 affordable dwellings by 2036.
“We need to improve housing diversity, particularly dwellings suited to older people, people with disability and the workforce rental market,” said Bega Valley Shire Council’s director of community, environment and planning Dr Alice Howe.
She said the amendment would allow a wider range of housing types within some town centres, provided they are incorporated into mixed-use developments.
According to the proposal, its intention is to include “dwelling house, dual occupancy, multi-dwelling housing or residential flat building” as permitted developments in the centres.
“Currently, the only forms of residential accommodation permitted in the B2 Local Centre zones in Bega, Bermagui, Eden, Merimbula, Pambula and Tathra town centres are shop-top housing and boarding houses,” said Dr Howe.
“The changes we are suggesting will ensure that active street fronts are maintained in these commercial areas while providing options for accommodation for key workers, business owners and the ageing population above or behind commercial premises.”
Mick Brosnan from the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast said a range of options needed to be explored to try to improve the housing crisis because no single option is going to resolve it.
When it came to the idea of expanding residential housing in town centres, he said his concern is that once a building is opened up “people who can pay a fortune will have first dibs at it”.
“We have to make sure it’s open to all people, particularly those in need,” said Mr Brosnan.
“The basic thing we all have to know is that we’ve got to be flexible and we’ve got to look at every option.
“We desperately need a youth refuge, and we desperately need a men’s refuge.”
Bega Chamber of Commerce president John Watkin said he is glad council is looking at the issue from a practical point of view, but while the area is facing a severe housing shortage he believes the amendment is not going to make much difference to Bega.
“There will be some changes in a few streets, but in reality it’s probably not going to open up more areas for housing,” said Mr Watkin.
He said heritage orders might prevent some older houses from being knocked down and a new structure being built in its place.
However, Mr Watkin said the amendment “looks like it will make a big difference” to Merimbula and open up housing there.
When it comes to other ideas on how to improve the housing crisis in Bega, Mr Watkin said council could approve a proposal for a 34-unit over-55s village, which has been waiting for approval for more than 12 months.
To comment on the proposed plan, visit Bega Valley Shire Council’s Have Your Say webpage before submissions close on 23 January, 2022.