(2) The nonsense of ‘shop top housing’

Quick tutorial on city planning (2):
Shop top housing

  • Remember (or imagine) the traditional shops in our local centres that were located on tram routes or near rail stations and high frequency buses? They had a flat on the first floor where the shopkeepers’ family lived. In every state, we called these strips of shops ‘villages’ and they were diverse, urban and were full of life.
  • Remember when these shop-top flats became unacceptable and were abandoned? Remember (or imagine) when they were prohibited by the planners of the 50s and 60s, who wanted ‘retail’ and ‘residential’ to be mutually exclusive?
  • And then the young and adventurous urbanists called for their revival. Politicians and developers were wary of this radical idea, but the radicals won, and ‘shop-top housing’ became something that could be included in innovative planning instruments.
  • Nothing better captures the obfuscation and paralysis of the NSW planning regime (thanks Bob, thanks Gabrielle) than the fact that a frozen, legalistic definition of ‘shop top housing’ lives on in every planning instrument in NSW.
In NSW planningspeak, this is ‘shop top housing’
  • To the citizens of this state, ‘shop top housing’ would mean a flat or two over a shop. That’s exactly what the definition suggests: ‘Shop top housing means one or more dwellings located above ground floor retail premises or business premises.’*
  • Shop top housing now means any form of residential development that has any kind of (minor) business on the ground floor.
  • The preposterous 180 m tower at 617-621 Pacific Highway (see pic) has been allowed in St Leonards by the North Sydney Council. Question: How did the Council change the zoning to allow this unprecedented overdevelopment? Answer: A neat trick, without changing the zone. They amended the LEP to allow the developer to build shop top housing – ‘one or more dwellings over a shop’.

* In 2007, Director General Sam Haddad said, ‘The Department will consider whether a revision to the definition of shop top housing is necessary to emphasise that shop top housing refers only to the housing component.’ Nothing happened. Shop top housing remains an absurd land use category.