Is it a bird? Is it a plane?
No, the crane invasion of Sydney’s skyline has been visible for several years – a 65 per cent increase in just the last two years.
But new figures reveal the shifting shape of the flock, as construction migrates away from the CBD and into the suburbs along key public transport routes.
Politicians – from Joh Bjelke Petersen to Gladys Berejiklian – point proudly to the skyline as a mark their achievements.
But experts warn Sydney’s pattern of development is failing to deliver the relief first home buyers need.
Amid a record apartment building boom, a suburb by suburb breakdown of the Rider Levett Bucknall Crane Index reveals Sydney’s emerging crane hotspots, spreading wings across the northern, western and southern corridors of the city.
Back in 2015, the Sydney CBD was the unrivalled centre of crane activity, home to 25 cranes.
By 2017, that number slipped to 17, while Sydney’s satellite suburban centres climbed the ranks. When researchers counted cranes in September last year, Epping was home to 16, Wolli Creek 13, Parramatta 12 and Mascot 10.
Sydney’s inner west is also a hive of activity, with Burwood, Ashfield, Homebush Bay and Lewisham rounding out Sydney’s top 10 crane suburbs.
The director of research at Rider Levett Bucknall, Stephen Ballesty, said the pattern of crane activity in Sydney and Melbourne differed markedly from other state capitals.
“Interestingly, the two most buoyant markets of Sydney and Melbourne have seen a huge decentralisation of multi-level developments taking place. There are now 109 Sydney suburbs and 54 Melbourne suburbs with cranes, whilst other cities’ high-rise developments are focused in the CBD area.”
Of the nearly 350 cranes that dominate Sydney’s skyline, more than one in five are building residential blocks, rather than commercial.
“Residential cranes soared to 298 around Sydney, which amount to 43 per cent of total cranes erected within and 54 per cent of all cranes supporting the residential sector in ,” Mr Ballesty said.
Building work began on a record number of new apartments in NSW last year, figures from the n Bureau of Statistics show.
In the aftermath of the Sydney Olympics and Bob Carr declaring Sydney “full”, construction dwindled to a low of just 24,000 new homes in 2009, split roughly evenly between free-standing homes and apartments.
The last five years have seen a dramatic turn around.
Work began on 74,000 new homes last year, including 29,000 free standing homes and a record 44,000 apartments.
But experts warn that the state’s record apartment boom is not delivering the price relief that first time buyers need.
The head of Urban and Regional Planning and Policy at the University of Sydney, Peter Phibbs, said high land prices meant developers were building apartments in the million dollar mark range, out of reach of typical first time buyers.
Overall, Professor Phibbs said the Sydney experience showed the error of simply focusing on supply to improve housing affordability.
“We have run an international experiment about the inability of supply really to moderate housing price increases in a context of declining interest rates and a very tax friendly environment for investors.
“We will probably never see that supply response in Sydney again.”
Professor Phibbs backed calls for reform of generous negative gearing and capital gains tax discounts. He also urged economic policy makers to question the over reliance on ultra low interest rates to stimulate the economy, and focus more on government infrastructure investments to spur growth and deliver much needed transport links.