Ten ways Perth is failing as a productive, liveable and sustainable city; the factors that informed our Transforming Perth report.



1. Sustainability


The 2010 Sustainable Cities Index Report found Perth to be Australia’s least sustainable city of Australia’s 20 largest cities, across 15 indicators. Perth came last on three categories: our ecological footprint, water and transport, and ranked last overall.  Perth has the largest ‘ecological footprint’ of Australia’s 20 largest cities



2. Housing unaffordability


Numerous studies in successive years have found Perth has one of the least affordable housing markets in the world[9].  The 3rd Bankwest Key Worker housing affordability report (2011) for example found houses are overwhelmingly unaffordable to Perth’s key workers such as teachers, and police in 87% of Perth’s 30 local government areas, and to nurses in 100% of LGAs[10].

House prices and rents have tripled since 2000, and increased by 27% in just one year from 2011-2012. A national Anglicare report in 2013 found 0-0.5% of Perth’s available private rental properties are affordable to people on low incomes. Perth also has one of the greatest housing supply gaps in the country[11].



3. Car dependency


Perth is rated one of the most car-dependent cities in the world[15]. 90% of all trips on the urban fringe are made in the car (81.5% of all trips made by car in Perth)[16]. Perth has the highest road length per capita compared with USA, Sydney, Europe and Tokyo[17] and our road system spans 14,200 km (inside the Perth and Mandurah footprint) – that’s three times the distance across Australia[18].  We have the 4th highest car ownership in the world in the world, and the highest level of car ownership in Australia. Congestion on our roads has reached critical levels and is estimated to cost $1b per year in lost productivity. One third of all car trips in Perth are 3km or less and half are less than 5km – trips that could be comfortably made by a bicycle, if only Perth residents had a safer and more comprehensive bike path network.



4. Loss of natural environment


Despite the Swan Coastal Plain being one of the world’s top biodiversity hotspots, the biggest threat to biodiversity in Perth is unprecedented levels of clearing - mostly to build low density housing at the urban fringes.  6,812 hectares of native vegetation was cleared between 2001 and 2009 - the equivalent of 10 WACA fields every week1. 601 species in WA are currently listed as threatened with extinction and this number is increasing. Only a handful of species are improving. The biggest threat to endangered species such as the iconic Carnaby’s cockatoo and the Bilby is land clearing2.



5. Urban footprint


The area of metropolitan Perth has doubled in size since the 1970s and is now stretches 120km from Mandurah to Yanchep. According to Professor Richard Weller, under business as usual Perth could stretch to Dongara and soon rival LA. Perth is now one of the biggest cities in the world – by footprint - but has the lowest population sizes and densities with an average of just 10 dwellings per hectare. The Department of Transport acknowledge the size and shape of our city means that residents are travelling long distances to work3, with the average distance travelled now 60 minutes per day. Under Premier Barnett, Perth now has the fastest growth yet the lowest infill targets in Australia: more than half (53%) of our growth to 2031 will occur in new greenfields developments – further and further away.



6. Most of our growth is occurring in the very outer suburbs


Perth has experienced the fastest growth of all Australian cities and between 2001 and 2011, our population increased by over a quarter. The areas with the largest and fastest population growth are occurring in outer and mostly new suburbs, far from the city and lacking in many services, town centres, and basic infrastructure like efficient public transport.  In fact;


·More than a quarter of our population growth (26%) took place in suburbs that are at least 35km from the CBD4.


·60% of our population growth was in suburbs located between 20km – 70km from the CBD


·Just 20% of our population growth occurred in suburbs less than 10km from the CBD



7. The economic cost of urban sprawl


The argument to ‘release more land’ as a solution to the lack of affordable housing in Perth is misleading. There are many hidden and very high costs incurred by the State Government to develop greenfields. This includes providing new infrastructure such as power and water, and new services like transport, health and education services. Ten years ago the state government estimated the cost to develop beyond the ‘front’ at $66,000 per block5.  recent and comprehensive study found the extra cost of providing infrastructure in greenfield developments is $85,000 per lot, and when you take into consideration the cost to provide services like healthcare, transport, and factor in lost productivity, carbon emissions and reduced physical activity, developing on the urban fringe costs $378.6 million more than for infill, per 1000 lots6.



8. Construction costs


Compared across Australia’s five largest cities, Perth has the highest construction costs for both Infill and Greenfield developments.  The construction cost of infill in Perth is $13,388 (5%) more than the national average12.  The cost of construction infill is also more expensive than on a greenfields site in Perth – with a 2 bedroom apartment costing $88,869 more (41%) to build than a 3 bedroom house with a garden13.   The National Housing Supply Council has found this is due to a mix of shortage of skilled labour, a high demand for materials driven by the mining boom, interest costs due to delays in building schedules, and rising fuel prices. The requirement for scaffolding and unionised labour (costs not used in detached housing) can also contribute14.



9. Housing choice


Perth is building apartments at the lowest rate in the country, with units and townhouses only making up 20% of all stock - the lowest of all capital cities - down from 40% in 1989.  ‘Multiple dwelling construction’ (townhouses and apartments) makes up only about 17% of all new dwellings compared to the Australian average of 30%. 77% of Perth households live in single detached houses – the highest percentage in Australian cities. Of those, 51% are occupied by just one or two people.

The recent WA ‘Housing We’d Choose’ study found a very strong mismatch between the type of housing being built, and the type actually preferred – it found the gap in the supply of smaller terrace houses in Perth is 23%, and there is an oversupply of detached houses of 22%, and apartments of 1%.



10.   House size


Perth’s housing is an average floor area of 250 square meters (compared to Australian average of 215 square metres). In America the average house is 202 square metres, in France it is 113 square metres and in Britain it is just 76 square metres[7].  Between 1994-95 and 2008 09, the average size of new separate houses in Perth grew by 17%, from 215 to 250 square meters[8]. Meanwhile the trend in other Australian cities has seen house sizes decrease.




1 WWF - The Perth Metropolitan Area at


2 WA Auditor General’s report Rich and Rare: Conservation of Threatened Species, 2009


3 Department of Transport – Public Transport for Perth in 2031. 2011. Draft. P12.


4 Australian Bureau of Statistics (2012) 3218.0 Regional Population Growth, Australia. Table 5. Estimated Resident Population, Statistical Areas Level 2, Western Australia. Released at 31 July 2012..


See also Spatial change in population in Greater Perth ABS (2012) 3218.0 - Regional Population Growth, Australia, 2011 at


5 WA State Sustainability Strategy (2003)


6 Based on total infrastructure costs per dwelling for 1000 dwellings of $85,538,330 in Trubka, Newman and Bilsorough (2010) The costs of urban sprawl – Physical activity links to healthcare costs  and productivity. Environment Design Guide. April 2010 Gen 83 p1-11.




8 Page 16


9 See for example ‘Australian housing still least affordable in the world despite recent improvements: Fitch’Property Observer  10 January 2013 at:


10 Bankwest (2011) 3rd Key Worker Housing Affordability Report Bankwest Financial Indicator Series Housing Affordability Report


11 National Housing Supply Council 2012 Table 4.4 p25


12 National Housing Supply Council 2010 State of Supply Report Chapter 6


15 Urban Australia: Where most of us live<>. 1992. CSIRO. Retrieved on 15 July 2012.




17 PTA 2008, cited p79 Weller 2009


18 Data sourced from Richard Weller (2009) Boomtown 2050 page 79-80



13 The National Housing Supply Council’s 2010 State of Supply Report Urbis Pty Ltd. 2010. National Dwelling Costs Study - FaHCSIA. Report for the Federal Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs. (accessed November 18, 2010).


14 Presentation, Michael Glendinning, Delfin Lend Lease “Consolidating Perth’s Suburbs: Is it really appropriate?” Presentation, UWA 22 September 2010


Authorised by Chris Dickinson & Adam Duncan, the Greens (WA), Ground Floor 445 Hay St Perth