Highrise in Alice: We don't need it


The Melanka development site has apparently been approved as an eight storey development with about 170 units. This has long had a polarising effect on the town. Is this really good thing for the site and town? Is it consistent with development in Alice Springs and other places? Do we need it at all? Who would benefit?
I think that anyone would agree that Alice Springs needs investment and we need development if we are to thrive as a town. There has also been a shortage of affordable housing, primarily since the housing boom which came with the Intervention. Both are important issues which need to be recognised and managed carefully.
So do we need more housing in Alice Springs? There is a clear need for more indigenous housing, however developments like Gap View (40 two bedroom townhouses), the bowling club (about 70 units), Larapinta Drive (25 town houses, all rent guaranteed by the NT Government) and Melanka (pictured below) don’t appear to cater for this need. Alice Springs population peaked at about 28,500 (Alice Springs News Online: Outlook for Alice – a mixed bag) and has since dropped (Australian Census data 2011) to around 25,186.
This would suggest that growth is not a reason for developing new housing at the moment. With around 400 units built and approved to be built, along with the recently built out Mt Johns estate and Kilgariff estate this will put a surplus of properties on the market which is only a benefit if we are expecting significant growth in the near future.
The most obvious effect all this new development will have on the town is on property prices and rents. In a real estate market which is already soft, the flood of new properties will further reduce property prices and rents. This effect is likely to be significant. For anyone who owns investment property in Alice Springs this will mean you can expect lower capital and rental returns until demand increases again at some stage in the future.
There is of course always an upside to this effect. Housing will become more affordable both to buy and rent and this would make it easier for first home owners and attracting people to work in Alice Springs. In addition the businesses involved in selling and building the developments will benefit, provided those contracts for construction are awarded to local businesses. And of course the developers of the projects will make money as witnessed by the fast sale of the Gap View apartments. The economic benefits from the construction however do not reach very far and the profits are not necessarily going to benefit Alice Springs.
p2166-Melanka-7Development of Melanka and bringing people closer to the centre of town will bring more life into the centre of town, which is sorely needed. The scale of development, at eight storeys is an outstanding and contentious feature of the proposal. To put this in context it is twice the height of any other building in Alice Springs.
Some of the greatest cities of the world such as Paris, Copenhagen and Rome have almost no development over five storeys high. Provincial towns of 30,000 people or so even more rarely so. Sydney’s pro-development government which forced development on Councils along transport corridors limited apartment blocks to four storeys. Why is this so? Mostly because high rise developments are ugly. But also because of a range of other issues such as shading, consistency with existing development, pressure on existing infrastructure and the like.
A development of eight storeys in Alice Springs is inconsistent with recognised planning policies and norms and inappropriate for Alice Springs. High rise is unnecessary and will stand out as a nationally inconsistent development, completely at odds with the nature of the town. The need for a high rise development is further obviated by council’s study of infill development potential by independent experts (citation needed) which identified there is room for several hundred more units in the CBD without exceeding the existing height of buildings.
There will always be winners and losers. The winners will be the developers, real estate agents and builders. With the surplus of property coming onto the Alice Springs market new home buyers and renters will see prices continue to drop. Existing home owners and landlords will see their properties and rents drop in value. And the town will have, in perpetuity, a monument to a poor decision. Melanka yes. High rise in Alice Springs no. The existing building height development is more than enough.


  1. I don’t know who you are Paul but hurrah. A well reasoned common sense argument.
    Sadly it doesn’t seem reason and common sense will prevail when the Chief Minister says he want to see eight storey developments all over Alice.

  2. Glad to see you in this dialog Paul. I enjoyed reading your views. Just wondering if you’ve had a chance to get some insights into the business side of the equation … in other words, from the developer / builder’s perspective?
    I have no idea how the numbers stack up but it would seem the number of stories, apartments and retail space would be based on making it work financially.
    There’s must be a point where the builder would say “forget it – can’t do it if you only allow X stories.”
    Have you heard anything saying the project could be financially viable with less than eight stories? My guess is they had to go eight stories to make the numbers work.
    And, they must have convinced the town planners and decisions makers that the benefits out-weight the downside.
    Were you involved in the discussion / debate? If so, can you share some insights as to how the final decision came about?

  3. Hi Dave Ives: Many thanks for your comment! One of my stories about Melanka reports in part about the eight storey rationale.

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more Paul. The established housing market in Alice Springs has already been adversely affected by the removal of first home owner grants.
    The demand is clearly not there to justify this influx of new unit developments.
    Some complexes in town have dropped by almost $100,000 per unit since the highs of 2010.
    Further developments with generous grants to first home buyers will only drive prices of established homes further down.
    Surely there are other ways to promote industry and investment in Alice?

  5. Amazing how you have all the options sorted for this town you have been involved in for how many years? And don’t remember your name on expressions of development when they where asked for on the site in question?
    You can sit back and bag development or put your money were your mouth is and take the challenge up and give our youth options and reasons to stay in this town.

  6. Thanks for this letter Paul, plenty of food for thought. Some interesting comments too. Amazed though at “Local” having the cheek to make a comment about not seeing your name, brazen for someone who hides behind a non de plume.

  7. Thank you Paul, and adding to Melanie’s remark: How does the Chief Minister reach his support for a double 8 storey building in a town like Alice, in his own electorate?
    Certainly not a matter of beautification nor of economical development in the years to come, but just a quick boost for the builders and associated services for a few months and then a disaster much larger than the “Old Melanka”.
    Too late? Just a suggestion: Rebuild the “Old Melanka” with up to date specifications. And please keep the old trees.
    When Alice will have forever lost her old charms, we can say by-by to the tourist industry.

  8. ‘Local’: Would you please enlighten us as to how 8 storey development would “give our youth options and reasons to stay in this town”?

  9. The caution about high-rise development in Alice Springs expressed here by Paul Darvodelsky echoes that of two leading local business and political figures of our town nearly 35 years ago.
    They were Len Kittle and Senator Bernie Kilgariff, who both signed up with other prominent identities to oppose the headlong rush of proposals for high-rise developments in the Alice in the early 1980s.
    I note the recent use of the pejorative term “leftard” used by some current high-rise enthusiasts to denigrate those individuals who have the temerity to speak up on this issue.
    I reckon those two worthy gentlemen from three decades ago must be a couple of likely-looking “leftards”?
    Let’s see – both were prominent businessmen (Bernie Kilgariff especially so in tourism), both were foundation members of the NT Country-Liberal Party in Alice Springs in 1974, and both were awarded honorary life memberships of that party in 1988.
    Yep, “leftards” to the core!
    It’s also worth noting that in the past there was tremendous optimism about the future growth of Alice Springs, beginning in 1969 when the town was confidently expected to reach 30,000 residents by 1990, and shortly thereafter this figure was increased to 50,000 by the turn of the century.
    This was the official position of the government in the Commonwealth days, before the CLP existed and adopted this outlook consistently through to the late 1980s.
    The contemporary historical record convincingly demonstrates that both government and business long-term planning and growth expectations for the Alice consistently falls far short of the reality – and it’s very clear that the same kind of people in charge now still have no real idea of what they’re doing.


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