Housing BANANAs attack the leapfrog

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By Leith van Onselen

Housing BANANAs (“Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything”) – that curious breed of activists that simultaneously opposes “evil sprawl” and high-rise development, while expecting the growing population to somehow be accommodated by the pre-existing housing stock – have attacked a new $650 million, 1,800 home development in Mount Barker – an exurban settlement 33 kilometres up the South Eastern Freeway from Adelaide.

According to the Adelaide Advertiser, readers have come out in force to decry the development, inundating both the newspaper and the Advertiser’s Facebook site with opposition to the development:

Dozens of readers have posted comments below or on The Advertiser Facebook site, to voice their concerns.

Many said public transport would have to be changed to support the ensuing population explosion…

The push for larger developments in the area has divided the community and a group of residents last month unsuccessfully demanded that Premier Jay Weatherill launch a royal commission into planning processes…

“There’ll be typical townhouse allotments starting about 6m wide and 30m deep and there will also be a mix of villa, courtyard and premium courtyard allotments, ranging from 600sq m up to 900sq m”…

“We’re hoping that the entry-level price for a house and land package would be around the $250,000 to the $260,000 mark”…

The irony with Mount Barker is that it has been developed in response to Adelaide’s restrictive planning system, and represents a classic example of “leapfrog development”, or what I like to call “planner sprawl”.

In 2002, the South Australian Government implemented an urban growth boundary (UGB) around Adelaide, which prevented expansion beyond the metropolitan urban limit. As so often happens with growth constraints, the imposition of the UGB generated pressure to accommodate development elsewhere, with the exurban town of Mount Barker an obvious destination (see below map of Mount Barker in relation to Adelaide).

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A 2005 paper from Policy Exchange explains this dynamic in greater detail:

In the words of Kieron Barnes, senior planning officer at Adelaide Hills council, “The South Australia Labor government created an urban growth boundary around Adelaide three years ago [2002] with the intention to stop the sprawl and to consolidate the city. But you could have guessed what happened then: People decided to move behind the growth boundary to places like Mt Barker from which they then commute to work in Adelaide. I was actually lucky to have bought my house there just before the growth boundary was put in place because after it was introduced land prices in Mt Barker soared.”

How did the state planners respond? “Well, now they have created more growth boundaries around the smaller cities as well to stop this kind of leapfrogging.”

Talking about his own personal house preference, he admits that he likes having a large house and does not mind commuting to work by car. Asked whether that was not actually contradicting planners’ beliefs in consolidation and promoting public transport, he smiles: “It’s difficult for planners not to behave hypocritically when it comes to personal choices. Many I know live in big houses on large parcels of land with two cars that are not necessarily environmentally or economically efficient.”

Of course, we should not be surprised by this outcome: similar phenomenon have occurred in other Australian cities.

The higher land prices arising from the imposition of an UGB tends to force many lower income households to ‘leapfrog’ the boundary and settle in far flung locations where housing is less unaffordable. In the process, UGBs can actually exacerbate urban sprawl and increase car reliance and energy usage, with particularly detrimental distributional impacts on lower socio-economic groups.

It’s yet another example of the perverse outcomes from urban growth constraints, which often have the opposite effect, thus eliminating many of their purported benefits (in addition to worsening housing affordability).

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Unconventional Economist


  1. Tassie TomMEMBER

    I spent 25 years in Murray Bridge or Adelaide, so naturally I find this article very interesting – thank you.

    There are probably a couple of factors in addition to the UGB causing the “leapfrog” in this particular case:

    1) A new freeway was built up the Adelaide Hills, opening (I think) in 1997. Mount Barker became much more accessible once this was built, and really started to take off from then.

    2) The Adelaide Hills are quite steep between “Tollgate” and the Onkaparinga valley, and it would be very difficult to build a grid-like streetscape in this region. Most streets in this band follow ridgelines of hills. This partly necessitates the “leapfrog”, at least to the East.

      • Immediately adjacent to an urban fringe, is many times as much land as what adjoins a radial highway or rail line within sensible travelling distance of the city, and ALL this land is FAR closer to the city than the land alongside the radial highway or rail line.

        It is not really even rocket science to work out why US cities where splatter development around the existing fringe is not prohibited, end up the most productive urban economies in the world on average.

        Households and businesses genuinely are locating at the most efficient spot for them as the urban economy grows. Mixed and balanced land use occurs naturally and spontaneously. The myriads of a la carte networks of work, business, school, shopping, recreation etc that occur are far more efficient than anything that can be devised by planners, even those with polycentric urban form in their heads. And “monocentric” just isn’t in the hunt at all. Yet there still are cities in the first world with “city centre first” zoning policies – prohibiting significant suburban retail development, for example, to force travel to the CBD for this purpose.

  2. The poorer people are pushed toward the fringes, that’s the norm I can deal with that however when those poor are forced beyond the fringe to allow foreign investment invasion, then I hope the policy maker is looking for trouble….. because they are going to get it… big time.

    • Nah – Tony – nothing will happen. The same clowns are going to be voted in year after year.

      It’s quite disheartening to see the duplicitous nature of your average voter who’s “just made it”… they were so pro-growth and liberalisation of the supply before they bought, and as soon as they did – Presto! I present you your new BANANA supporter!

      Spineless f*cks . The whole lot!

    • There’s another reason to own property on the horizon? “You haven’t got a mortgage that we can attach to your credit card, sir? Not even your parent’s? Well I’m sorry, but we just don’t offer any of our services to those who aren’t in the property market”. That struck me the other night when I saw BNZ offering “credit cards interest at mortgage rates”in its latest ad. and wondered where that might go!

    • “Informal housing” in many third world countries is surprisingly well co-ordinated. I recall reading something by Colin Ward about this.

      Several thousand people at once in a well-organised effort, descend on a legally-purchased greenfields or brownfields site and commence erecting informal structures at high speed before the authorities can organise a sufficiently large policing/military effort to stop them. Once they are there and unable to be dislodged, a long process of site improvements commences.

      “Informal housing” is of such magnitude in many third world countries that it is impossible to do without it. Interestingly, a lot of it still consists of quite mature “markets”, with informal “titles” and so on.

      Colin Ward was advocating that young people resort to this course of action in the UK. It hasn’t happened yet, and things have got much worse for young people over there than what they have in Aussie.

  3. So is Keiron Barnes confessing to having used insider knowledge as a planning officer for his own personal benefit?

  4. I fear too many people benefit from zoning restrictions & UGBs. And that’s why the this practice will continue, untill something breaks.
    In that regard the BANANAs are actually helping to maintain the present situation. Are they paid by those who benefit ?

  5. It is important to keep in mind that Australia is very fertile ground for a range of different BANANA varieties.

    Here are a few.

    Green BANANAs

    The Green BANANA doesn’t want anything to be built because they don’t really like humans much – so anything that stops the expansion of the human foot print is tops. They or their parents are usually well off , have good jobs and are well bred so the cost impact on low income earners of land use restrictions doesn’t bother them much.

    Red BANANAs

    The Red BANANA doesn’t think much of private property and thus the idea of private property owners spreading across the plains doesn’t do much for them. Instead they think all private property is theft (even if is taxed) and the state should be the landlord. Red Bananas are often found in bunches with Green Bananas in low numbered post codes and spend their time calling for more public housing.

    Straight BANANAs

    Straight bananas like to hang in well ordered bunches and think everyone else should as well. They believe if only the life is well planned and structured using a vast array of zones and restrictions the world would be a much better place. Straight Bananas idea of the perfect death is to be hit by a light bulb falling from the sky. Straight Bananas often disguise their straight inclinations by adopting the arguments of Red and Green Bananas. Straight Bananas simply love Canberra – but rarely live there. In fact Straight Bananas seem to like living in places built organically by very non-straight people.

    Golden BANANAs

    Golden Bananas know that a shortage makes what they have more valuable. The Golden Banana will claim there is plenty of houses and there is no need for more. Golden Bananas are a friendly mob and they will cuddle up to Red, Green and especially Straight Bananas at the drop of a hat.

    Woody BANANAs

    Woody Bananas are a bit thick and generally listen with a slack jaw to all the other Bananas prattling on and simply nod their approval to everything they say.

    The cure for an infestations of exotic bananas is quite simple

    1. Significantly reduce the restrictions on permitted uses of land for both developed and new land

    2. Remove the demented First User Pays All approach to financing the servicing and development of new land.

    Those two simple steps will keep Australia clear of exotic bananas.

    • And of course, let’s not forget the wisest of them all – The Grey Banana…..( On reflection, maybe they are a subspecies of the Golden Banana yet to ‘go off’)

      • Be my guest.

        As I said Australia is a very fertile environment for BANANAs.

        (Must be the rising climate temperatures)

        So new varieties are always on the horizon.

    • Classic comment, worth saving and quoting.

      And is this a newly coined term too:

      “First User Pays All”



    • Free_Market_Delusion

      Oh that is utterly brilliant!

      Its exactly how it works and why it won’t ever change.

      Unfortunately something catastrophic is going to have to happen to really change the mind set let alone the policy!

    • Re Green Bananas

      Although they dislike humans, they invariably choose to reproduce, not of course viewing their own offspring as cancers on the environment, just everyone else’s!

  6. Suburbanisation – it’s the main game in town.
    NIMBY, BANANA, NOPE, LULU – let the children squabble.
    They’re only children after all.

    You see, the plan is to wipe out the working class:
    1. inflate land prices far in excess of wage inflation;
    2. make sure that this occurs outside UGB even adjacent cheap farm land;
    3. drip-release of land to exacerbate costs;
    4. make sure vested interests get inside goss on zoning changes;
    5. red-tape the heck out of genuine builders;
    6. keep the MSM in your pocket – or is that the other way round;
    I could keep on, but work calls.
    Once one sees that the Laberals, captives of neo-liberalisation, are committed to wiping out the working class and are going to mainly use the inflating cost of land to do so, the picture clarifies itself.
    Use whatever comes to mind – high dollar, foreign hot money, UGB, land-banking, irresponsible and poorly supervised lenders, the tax system, highest population rate in Western world, middle-class welfare for the wealthies amongst us – whatever.
    And you think superannuation will mean something in 10, 20, 30 years time.
    It is getting trashed at a rate in real time.

    This squabble in SA is a symptom of a kind of greed to maintain one’s advantage – understandable.
    The antidote for greed is generosity, which might be a bit of an ask, so how about introducing Land value tax as recommended by Prosper + Population Policy?

    • Whether it’s by design or just a sort of passive conformity to the rule and siren-song of capital, the Laberal party is wiping out the working class that’s for sure, and housing is leading the charge.

      “The antidote for greed is generosity”

    • Actually, the plan is to maintain profit share at the very top, by whatever means possible. The effect is to enlarge the working class (via erosion of the middle class); keep ’em lean and keep ’em keen.

      • I would refine that to say that the plan is to maximise zero-sum economic rents to those at the very top.

        The actual “producers” are milked too via the garnishing of everything they pay their workforces, by the housing-cost rentiers.