Building approvals slump amid Hunter house shortage

THE number of Hunter residential building approvals has halved over the past decade while the region’s housing shortage continues to grow.

There has also been solid growth in home renovations as more home owners invest cash in existing dwellings rather than buying new ones.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows there were 1265 residential dwellings built in the December quarter of 2001 compared to 675 in the June quarter of 2012.

Master Builders Association Hunter manager Len Blakeney said the drop-off affected the region’s ability to meet housing targets identified in the 2006 state plan.

‘‘They were talking about needing to build 4000 to 5000 [a year] five years ago. We are well below that; we struggle to get to the 3000 mark,’’ he said.

The resources boom in the first part of last decade resulted in a unprecedented jump in property values and building approvals.

Yet the global financial crisis (GFC) wiped the gains in most sections of the market.

‘‘We had a massive boom leading up to 2003; prices were going crazy. Since the GFC it has flatlined,’’ Hunter Valley Research Foundation director of research Simon Deeming said.

Despite the downturn, Mr Deeming said the Hunter was relatively well placed in relation to affordable housing.

‘‘But things are starting to get crunched to make it work,’’ he said.

‘‘Blocks around Maitland are getting smaller. Where they used to be 600 [square metres] they are now 450.’’

Instead, renovations had become the preferred option for more living space.

‘‘There hasn’t been the growth in land sub-divisions and available blocks so people have been staying in their homes and upgrading or renovating,’’ Mr Blakeney said.

‘‘You look at the Newcastle area and there is just very little land in our local government area [Newcastle].’’

Mr Deeming said a    desire to reduce debt had prompted many people to renovate rather than buy a new home. 

‘‘People are more conservative now,’’ he said. 

 ‘‘In the old days people said, ‘let’s get into the market and buy a couple of shiny things to go with it’ and not worry about how much money they were spending.’’ 

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