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Call to transform old shopping centres into housing

Suburban shopping centres with expansive asphalt car parks should be explored as sites for new multi-storey housing complexes, a South Australian peak body says.

Jan 18, 2024, updated Jan 30, 2024
File photo: Lukas Coch/AAP

File photo: Lukas Coch/AAP

The Council on the Ageing SA (COTA SA) says redeveloping poorly used one-storey shopping centres into medium density housing could address housing shortages in areas close to the city.

In its submission to Infrastructure SA’s 20-Year State Infrastructure Strategy discussion paper, COTA SA argues that these sites are primed for residential development due to their proximity to public transport and other infrastructure.

“Given that there may be a shortage of parcels of land which can be developed for medium-density housing in some locations, a… suggestion is to explore the possibility of redeveloping suburban and regional shopping centres,” it said.

“Most are either one or two storey complexes, often with large expanses of asphalt for car parking and frequently located close to bus routes.

“If the sites are redeveloped fully to a medium density (say, five storeys), the development could include extensive solar cells and green roofs, eliminate the heat effect of the asphalt, address housing shortages and lack of variety in housing options, address transport needs, and incorporate design features which foster community connection.”

COTA SA chief executive Miranda Starke told InDaily that the suggestion was about “making better use of sites that have the opportunity to… provide residential living with good infrastructure around it”.

“It would obviously have to be a complete redevelopment of a site like that to look at improving the density,” she said.

“We’re also interested in how we can bring the temperature down through the way that a site’s being used. Obviously, if you’ve got a big car park, that’s not helping.”

COTA SA’s submission to the discussion paper is also urging the state government to “explicitly address our ageing population” in its plans and strategies.

It has called for all state government and Renewal SA-led housing projects to include a social housing component, highlighting the risk of homelessness for older women.

“A variety of factors mean that secure and affordable housing is rapidly moving out of reach for an increasing number of older South Australians,” it said.

“Older women are particularly at risk because of a lifetime of lower wages, lower superannuation, and asset losses in separations.”

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Liam Golding, chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia SA division, said redeveloping shopping centres into housing is “definitely something worthy of investigation”.

He also said it was a more common form of development interstate.

“UDIA is supportive of investigating shopping centre that have sort of passed their usefulness, where they’ve been superseded by shopping centres nearby or the infrastructure’s getting a bit worn out,” he said.

“Obviously, we don’t want a highly used regional centre being repurposed into residential and then the people that live there have to drive half an hour to get to services.

“But there’s obviously going to be opportunities for this kind of development, and it’s development that’ll be in a location that’s generally speaking well serviced by existing transport connections.”

Infrastructure SA, the state government’s independent infrastructure agency, is scheduled to complete the 20-Year State Infrastructure Strategy in late 2024.

The strategy is intended to guide state government infrastructure investments until 2045.

The paper has previosuly been criticised by public transport advocates who argue it will not do enough to encourage public transport investment in the outer suburbs where the government is rezoning large swathes of land for new housing.

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