Earlier this month, the ABS released detailed dwelling approval data to November 2019. Breaking down approved dwellings by local government area (LGA) highlights a concentration of new development in south-east regional and metropolitan centres, and a relatively low level of medium density approvals. 

Figure 1: Dwelling approvals by LGA, year to November 2019 – Australia

A quarter of approvals were in 10 LGA regions

In total, there were 171,760 new dwelling approvals across Australia in the year to November 2019. Of the LGAs captured, 478 regions, or 88% of LGAs, had new dwellings approved. 

However, over a quarter of total approvals were concentrated in just 10 LGA regions. These include the ACT region, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast Councils, parts of Western Sydney, and areas on the fringe of the Melbourne metropolitan. 

Top 10 LGA regions by number of total dwellings approved in the year to November 2019

The combined number of dwellings approved in these 10 LGAs is approximately 43,000. They are largely in, or at the fringe of, established urban centres of Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. 

Top 10 LGA regions by number of total dwellings approved in the year to November 2019, dwelling type breakdown

Detached housing dominated approvals in these regions. On average, detached housing made up 60.7% of approvals in the top 10 LGAs, high-density units (in a building of four or more storeys) averaged 25.2%, while approvals for housing types in between these two densities averaged 14.1%.  

The persistently missing middle 

The ‘missing middle’ refers to a paucity of new development that provides low rise, medium density housing options, such as townhouses and duplexes. Some definitions of medium density also include low rise unit builds.  

Medium density housing options can be important for young families who seek a more affordable housing option close to city centres, but require more space than in a unit, or older Australians wishing to downsize in their current area of residence to reduce housing costs in retirement. 

As populations continue to converge in metropolitan regions, demand for such diverse housing options are likely to grow.  

The development of more medium density housing in Australia is particularly efficient for infilling major metropolitan areas, because it takes advantage of established transport and social infrastructure. 

The trend of a relatively small portion of dwellings planned across townhouses and smaller unit blocks was fairly persistent across LGA regions. 

Of the 478 regions with approved dwellings over the year, an average of 14.9% of dwellings were approved as townhouses, duplexes or in unit blocks with 3 storeys or less. This is higher than the average across existing stock, with ABS data suggesting councils currently have an average of 11.9% medium-density dwellings. 

As dwelling prices are expected to continue rising in 2020, and affordability resurges as an issue for buyers, demand for cheaper housing options will only rise. If development continues to focus on the two extremes of density, metropolitan areas may see an erosion of diverse age and family demographics.