Planning for profit: analysing developer strategies during Sydney’s high-rise residential boom

Authors: Alistair Sisson*, UNSW, Laurence Troy, University of Sydney, Bill Randolph, UNSW, Simon Pinnegar, UNSW
Topics: Urban Geography, Land Use
Keywords: Housing, Planning, Urban Development, Real Estate
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 6:25 AM / 7:40 AM
Room: Virtual 38
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper emerges from a large, multi-methods study of planning and property development during Sydney’s historic boom in high-rise residential development between the Global Financial Crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Drawing on interviews with developers, financiers, planning consultants and local authorities, and focusing on a diverse sample of 30 developments across six districts, the paper outlines various ways that developers have navigated the planning system to secure profitable outcomes. Rather than presenting a barrier to profit-making, the planning system has provided a range of mechanisms through which developers have generated additional value, in the land or for a new development. Developer-led ‘spot rezoning’, modifications to development consent, ‘design excellence’, appeals to higher authorities, and financial or in-kind contributions to local infrastructure are some such mechanisms through which developers have circumvented apparent limitations to development and financial outcomes. Over time, some mechanisms have been closed off and others have opened as the politics of planning has shifted and new reforms have been introduced. Fundamentally, however, the planning system in Sydney has remained deliberately ambivalent towards questions of value creation and extraction in the built environment. Indeed, planning in Sydney presumes the profitability of private property development, particularly for new housing, and focuses instead on regulating its environmental and design outcomes. This paper argues that it is within such a system that a multitude of development strategies, tactics, and business models have emerged to reap substantial rewards and dramatically transform built environments.

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