May 16 - 22, 2021: Issue 494


Seniors Housing: Are we paving paradise?

Developers appear to be targeting the Northern Beaches for so-called Over 55s housing developments because of the availability of large residential blocks that aren’t restricted by heritage or rural zonings.

With an aging demographic, the demand for suitable seniors housing on the Northern Beaches is strong – from locals and from people outside the area. But there’s also a growing tide of opposition to this medium-density form of housing.

In the latest episode of Radio Northern Beaches show, The Coast, host Wendy Frew talks to Avalon Preservation Association President Peter Mayman, President of the Newport Residents Association Gavin Butler, Northern Beaches Council Mayor Michael Regan, and planning and housing expert Mark Skelsey, about whether Over 55s development is the best way to meet this demand. 

You’ll also hear from Avalon residents who joined a peaceful protest at the site of a proposed Over 55s development in North Avalon Road.

Mr Skelsey, Editor of website, said it was possible the Northern Beaches was particularly popular with developers right now because of recent state government changes to planning laws that meant Over 55s housing can’t be built in heritage conservation areas and is limited in rural land adjoining urban land.

That could be restricting development opportunities in regions such as the Hills District and the North Shore.

This kind of seniors housing must be built on residential blocks of at least 1000 square metres, and there are plenty of those on the Northern Beaches. Sky-high property prices in this part of Sydney are also encouraging many residents to sell their properties to developers.

Mr Skelsey said interest from older people and empty nesters in downsizing from large family homes to more modest and easier-to-maintain seniors housing strengthened during the COVID-19 lockdown because many people felt isolated and lonely.

“Therefore, they looked towards retirement communities, and there is an important distinction … these [Over 55s] are communities where you can still live independently but you have people around you and there are some staff,” he said.

NSW has had a State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) for seniors and people with a disability since 1982. It allows developers access to land they would not otherwise be able to build on under local government planning laws.

“It is probably fair to say it has been contentious the entire time it has been in place,” said Mr Skelsey.

Increased traffic congestion and loss of tree canopy associated with Over 55s housing are among the reasons many residents oppose the developments. Others are upset that many of these developments are expensive and only suitable for people who are already reasonably well off.

Mayor Michael Regan told The Coast the State Government SEPPs allow for “poor planning” because developers can override local planning controls.

“If you have a big enough block of land you can build multiple dwellings on it, be they units or townhouses, provided they are built a certain way,” he said.

He said multiple Over 55s projects can be built in one street, leading to a “domino affect”.

“We are seeing that in Wheeler Heights and in Terrey Hills where entire streets that are zoned for low density housing turn into medium density housing as, one by one, the houses make way for seniors developments. 

“It doesn’t allow Council and the community to work together to come up with solutions.” 

Mayor Regan said that since 2018, 32 development applications for seniors living projects had been lodged with Council. Many of the D.A.s rejected by Council because they didn’t meet local planning laws were later approved in the state Land and Environment Court.

You can hear the full interviews with Mayor Regan and others in the latest episode of The Coast, titled “When I’m 64”.

Tune in to Radio Northern Beaches (88.7/90.3FM) on Friday 21 May at 11am. Or listen at anytime on