Visitor Accommodation Provisions – PIA Tas Submission

PIA’s Tasmanian Division, through the work of its Policy and Advocacy Sub-Committee, has recently made a submission to the Minister for Planning  on the provisions for Visitor Accommodation in the draft Planning Directive No. 6, and the related Interim Planning Directive No. 2.

While the full submission can be viewed on the PIA website here it includes the following:

“It is well recognised that Tasmania is experiencing unprecedented growth in Tourism, which is significantly contributing to economic growth. It is also clear that visitor accommodation, particularly within the State’s capital of Hobart is not able to provide for sufficient accommodation for the possible number of visitors at peak times. Equally, there are other examples across the various regions in the State where similar scenarios arise.

In broad terms, PIA Tasmania supports the clarification of planning controls as to when “share” types of visitor accommodation will require a permit. The question for the planning profession is whether the policy settings provided in IPD2 and IPD6 set the right balance between facilitating the share economy in visitor accommodation and providing for affordable rental housing for Tasmanian residents. It is important to review any change to housing and policy settings – and a change to planning controls over visitor accommodation is such a change – in the context of unforeseen impacts on other parts of the housing sector.

Existing use rights
Under draft PD6 the scope for exemptions is reasonably broad, and there is also potential for substantial additional development to accommodate visitors. Once a landowner has invested substantially in development that may facilitate the use of the land for visitor accommodation, existing use rights will protect such uses, making it difficult to “roll back” exemptions for visitors if this is no longer desirable. It is therefore vital that the policy settings are carefully considered in the first instance. We note that this includes any person that has commenced a visitor accommodation use lawfully in accordance with IPD2.

There may be other unintended consequences as a result of this. For instance, accommodation including four bedrooms over 300m2 of area including an area for any management/occupier/owner is likely to be of a larger scale and may be considered inconsistent with the existing character and amenity of many residential areas.

The exemption that an ‘owner or occupier’ is ‘temporarily absent’ will be difficult to establish and enforce. The length of time for ‘temporarily absent’ is not defined within the directive, and it is not clear what the test would be to establish that the dwelling is the ‘main place of residence’ for the owner or occupier. This will rely on neighbours to “dob in” unlawful practices, and increase the enforcement burden for councils. Greater clarity in the language used to give effect to the policy intent is desirable.

Housing affordabilityBattery Point-11
The issue of sharing economy and visitor accommodation is not a new one in Hobart. The Battery Point Planning Scheme 1979, had specific clauses to prevent the further proliferation of visitor accommodation that may otherwise result in the area primarily providing accommodation for tourists. Clause 11.3.2 Visitor Accommodation of the Hobart Interim Planning Scheme 2015, including A2, controls visitor accommodation in Battery Point and is consistent with the objective that ‘visitor accommodation is of a scale that accords with the Residential Character and use of the area’.

This issue is not unique to Battery Point, and the same may be said of other locations close to the waterfront and CBD such as Sandy Bay, North Hobart, and West Hobart, where housing stock traditionally utilised for student and rental accommodation is being converted to visitor accommodation.

It is important that in highly desirable residential areas that opportunities exist for long term residents, and that they are not priced out of the market. Tasmanians are now experiencing the demand for visitor accommodation expanding to all suburbs within proximity of services and jobs. Centrally located suburbs of all the cities of Tasmania are all experiencing substantial pressure from the use of homes for visitor accommodation where the return of investment is substantially better than they were leased long term. There is emerging evidence from Europe that while tourism is good for economics it is damaging the values that attract visitors to cities and towns.

Battery Point-1… Residents are being displaced from inner city locations, and for this reason, major cities have banned home sharing platforms such as Airbnb to protect permanent residents including; New York City, Barcelona, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, Paris, New Orleans, Santa Monica, and Berlin. The displacement of residents from the centre of cities may have other unforeseen effects, including displacing people from living close to work with resulting increases in travel times and motor vehicle transport, urban sprawl as demand for housing further out increases, and the consequential loss of economic activity in the city centre reducing the authenticity and vibrancy that drives visitors to a city.

It is these types of impacts that PIA Tasmania considers need to be thought through in relation to a planning deregulation of visitor accommodation; a control brought in to accommodate a short term gain can have lasting effects.

Affordable Housing
The current government has recognised the need to provide affordable housing in the report Affordable Housing Strategy 2015-2025. This strategy recognises the locations where demand for housing is greatest, and the issues that housing stress can have on a community.

Low cost accommodation is also needed to facilitate the growth of education and innovation options with the relocation of the University of Tasmania into the main urban centres.

… Home sharing platforms are already recognised as contributing in a short fall in affordable housing in Tasmania. A reduction in affordable housing through increased visitor accommodation in housing stock could diminish the liveability of our residential areas and the potential of other resources, including the growth of education resources.

Rural Areas
While it is recognised that the State government has targets for visitors to regional areas the structure of the directives potentially undermines other targets, particularly for Agriculture. There is potential to impact on the characteristics of rural areas (Rural Living Zone, Environmental Living Zone, and Village Zone).

For example it is possible for a person who owns a 2ha rural living parcel build an exempt structure (e.g. colorbond shed), and then convert that existing building into visitor accommodation. Correctly, multiple dwellings are prohibited within the zone.

Visitor accommodation is a permitted use within the Rural Living Zone, and as the use would be undertaken in an existing building (that was exempt from assessment itself), it would satisfy the relevant Acceptable Solution. With the ability to be replicated on a single property, and then replicated on nearby properties, there is the potential to completely change the density and characteristic of rural areas.

Use Conflict
Another example is that people could use permitted visitor accommodation to quash or significantly impact upon nearby uses that have the potential to cause environmental harm, particularly a Level 2 Activity.

If a Level 2 Activity is advertised but is yet to be approved, and a nearby owner believes they will be detrimentally affected by the proposed activity, the nearby owner could easily obtain a permit for visitor accommodation purely for the purposes of impacting the operation of (and any conditions that apply to) the Level 2 Activity. This is because it would create a new sensitive use closer to the source of emission of the use with the potential to cause environmental harm and any noise/dust/odour emissions would then need to be mitigated, potentially destroying the viability of the new venture.

In addition to tourism, there is a raft of other targets the State Government has identified as important in its policy Building the Future for Tasmanians.

The information released to accompany draft IPD2 provides insufficient guidance as to how the directive is consistent with the direction of the objectives of the Land Use Planning and Appeals Act, and the State policies, particularly the Policy for Agricultural Land, nor how it fits into the broader government policy platform to provide for affordable housing [Tasmania’s Affordable Housing Strategy 2015-2025 (DHHS 2015)].

It is recognised that planning should facilitate new technologies that are changing the way that we use our land resources; and to be flexible and agile to new innovations. Tasmanians also have the benefit of being able to learn from international precedence on the impacts of disruptive technologies as we rarely experience the changes first. However, as illustrated in the example of Battery Point the proliferation of visitor accommodation is not a new challenge for our state; and the principles that we have established for the fair and orderly use of land, and to sustain the protection of natural and physical resources have not changed over time.

In considering the proposed amendments to Visitor Accommodation, it is important that firstly that decisions are made with respect to broader land use issues including settlement and housing policy including affordable housing; the creation of active and vibrant cities and local economies; healthy and active transport; as well as how to accommodate an increase in student numbers, prevent land use conflicts and protect our valuable rural and agricultural land.

Secondly, that greater emphasis is given to the implications of how such a broad exemption will be administered by councils and the implications of existing use rights, particularly if it is later necessary to reverse these policy settings.

Finally, evaluation and review of draft PD6 is imperative for future policy refinement and development. Specific monitoring is imperative to gauge understanding of visitor accommodation and the implications this has for residential areas. The lessons learnt elsewhere suggest that this is valuable; ensuring that residential amenity is sustained and housing affordability is not compromised through the relaxation of these use and development controls. The lessons learnt elsewhere also make a valuable contribution to our own policy development and reinforces the importance of such analysis. This in turn has the potential to form the basis for future decision making with respect to any amendments made to the Tasmanian Planning Scheme.”

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