Planning Now and Post Pandemic: Interview with Ian Cady

INTERVIEW – Ian Cady | Planning Director

Only a few short months ago, the words pandemic were not spoken on a daily basis, residential price growth was returning to positive heights, people were meeting up with friends to have a drink in the city after work, and students could walk freely around their university campus.

Now, every day is filled with COVID-19 updates, parents juggling work and home schooling, social distancing rules and video call overload. The impact this pandemic has already caused is astounding and we will continue to watch the affects trickle over our communities across the world.

Many city streets have been empty for months. With the Prime Minister announcing today a three step easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the question we are all debating is will our cities ‘snap-back’ or will a new normal evolve post pandemic?

With a face to face coffee out of the question, we thought we would sit down for a virtual coffee with one of our Planning experts, Ian Cady, Director of Place Design Group to get his perspective on ISO life and the planning and development outlook moving forward.

What changes have you seen in the market since the pandemic hit?

Before COVID-19, residential price growth was on the rise after a two-year decline. Things in the residential and investment markets were positive and looking to turn back around. Although now, despite the latest update to the planning reforms to push through projects, we are seeing planning for new private projects being put on hold.

The Government and Planning Ministers implemented a new planning reform and stimulus packages, is this enough to kick start the industry?

The stimulus package is great for the industry in the short term, however what could make the biggest impact in the medium to long term is the opportunity to make hard structural reforms, such as resolving developer contribution frameworks and replacing stamp duty with land tax. You’ll be hard to find anyone in the property industry who thinks that stamp duty is a good idea. In times of crisis, adaptability and innovation are key and things that may have worked before are highlighted as no longer the way forward, forcing us to come up with new and better ways of thinking.

Consensus around the need to make these big moves is often easier to achieve in times of crisis. The need for structural reform to stimulate longer term growth will become more pressing as we come out of this pandemic.

What are you seeing in the market at the moment?

Planning is a good indicator of how the market is travelling. One of the most common questions I’m being asked at the moment is – How do I accelerate my project? However, hesitation to commence projects is increasing. Approvals are one thing and are being pushed through, however the commencement of projects is another. Developers and investors are holding off spending until more certainty arises. How long will it take for this hesitation flow on and delay start dates for the construction industry?

A large proportion of the investor housing market is migration driven. With borders closed migration stops providing the uplift our economy relies on. Consumer confidence has clearly taken a hit and will further dampen investor demand. Unfortunately, there is no amount of projects that can be approved to fix the investor market if there is reduced population growth to absorb it.

What changes do you think will arise due to the pandemic?

We will certainly see a decrease in student housing and hotel projects since foreign tourism and education are big parts of the economy that have been turned off. This poses the question, will there be a shift to nationalism? With talks of international boarders being closed for at least 12 months, will this cause a cultural change, will foreign students start to consider studying in their homeland, instead of travelling internationally to study?

Bricks and mortar retailing also faces an uncertain future.  When social isolation is over will we all return to our previous shopping and entertainment habits or will there be a more permanent shift to online shopping and food delivery or home cooking.

With office workers having been forced into working from home, and employers having to put in place the systems to provide for that, how many of us will return to the office, and the CBDs where most of our offices are located when this is over?

While the impact on the tourism sector is obvious, what about the broader multiplier effects on regional economies, many of which are underpinned by tourism and had already been critically impacted by the black summer bushfires.

What opportunities could we look to focus on right now?

Now that our cities and streets are still quiet, it’s a great opportunity to press on with public domain work. The planning approval process can be relatively quick, and it is the perfect time for street closures and bike path upgrades, while less cars are on the road and there is a significant decrease in foot traffic.  Governments are already responding, for example with funding of a significant cycleway in Sydney’s Inner West and increased pedestrianisation of George Street. These are great ideas.

Looking ahead, where will the attention lie?

NSW in particular has been in a strategic planning phase for the past couple of years. I suspect that this phase will be extended. The industry will have more capacity to work with Government on strategic planning exercises and publicly initiated work, rather than private development facilitation.  However, there will be a tension between strategic planning and pressure to streamline approval systems.


Ian Cady

Planning Director