The Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) is a not-for-profit organisation that represents one of Australia’s largest industry sectors, the urban development industry. Their reach extends to the whole of Australia, including metropolitan and regional areas. The UDIA consists of five state associations that form a national body, which is run by a council of delegates. The UDIA as a whole exists to serve their state members on national issues.
According to Julie Katz, National President of the UDIA, the Institute has several important and interconnected functions. Firstly, it is a lobbying group that seeks to ensure decisions made at the local, state and federal levels work to improve the industry, keeping the land supply and quality of housing as high as possible throughout Australia. Secondly, they serve in an advisory capacity, keeping their membership up to speed on the latest industry developments at both the state and national level.
At the same time, the UDIA hosts various events, which also allows for networking opportunities between their members, which in turn enables best practice to occur. “We’re very much an organisation that learns from each other,” Katz says. The organisation’s flagship event is its annual National Congress which will be held in Perth in March 2012.
The UDIA’s two central functions – advocacy and advisement – are of relatively equal value to their member companies overall. For their larger member companies, such as Australand and AVJennings, UDIA’s national advocacy focus is incredibly helpful. For the smaller developers, the knowledge-exchange opportunities the organisations present are more valuable, as that grants them access to information they would not be able to attain within their individual networks.
Overall, the UDIA has thousands of corporate members, with a number of different classification categories. “There are categories associated with turnover and what your position is within the industry itself,” Katz explains. Developer members of the UDIA are classified by the amount of turnover within their own organisations, with the larger ones paying a greater membership fee than the smaller ones. Then there’s the consultancy membership, which applies to organisations that support the developers within the industry. That classification encompasses valuators, town planners, architects, surveyors, engineers, and media involved in the promotion of pilot development work.
The UDIA’s national office used to be in Sydney, but moved to Canberra because it allowed them closer access to the Federal Government. “We found that we have a much better understanding of what’s happening day-to-day rather than finding out a day or two after the event,” Katz explains. “We know what the policy movements are and we deliver input, so that the Government understands what the development sector needs.”
From that national office, the UDIA deals with three central issues. The first is infrastructure, and how it impacts land supply and growth in each of the states/territories. “Secondly there’s land supply itself, where we look at how we can ensure the land supply meets demand,” Katz says. The third issue is planning systems. “We try to make sure that affordability is really considered at a national level so we can actually get the land on the market in the most effective, affordable way to reduce overall costs.”
The UDIA continue to be active in the field of sustainability, and have their own scientifically-based branding system called EnviroDevelopment. “Something we’ve focused very much on is bringing into the industry an understanding of what the costs are to various types of sustainable actions that have been proposed,” Katz says. EnviroDevelopment is designed to make it easier for purchasers to recognise and select environmentally sustainable homes, and also promotes and supports developers that seek to undertake sustainable developments. “It’s a very proactive role we’re playing, using the development industry as a leader to achieve sustainability.”
Looking to the future
Moving forward, Katz says the UDIA will be concentrating on getting things done. The industry has been slow to rebound from the effects of the global financial crisis, and that has been because progress is restricted by bureaucracy. “It is incredibly time-consuming to get planning approval through the system,” she says. “There are real time lags that haven’t been resolved. There needs to be a lot more energy in trying to streamline those processes. There’s also such an overload of both state and federal taxes on land development that they inhibit the ability to provide affordable housing. These are the sorts of things we’re really focusing on at the moment.”
Affordable housing is a related key focus of the UDIA as they look to the future. Katz says their mission is to get affordable land onto the market in a timely fashion, with the minimum amount of environmental impact. “Once a decision is made, we’d like to see a speedy development process, we want the developers to do it in an environmental and sustainable way, and we want it backed by the state and local Governments,” she says. “Affordability is really the key at the moment. Land is just so expensive, housing is just so expensive, and it’s because of the large number of taxes and the duplication of those taxes and the amount of time it takes.”
Looking past their immediate focuses to the longer term, Katz says the UDIA’s goals are clear: they want to improve their already strong environmental credentials, and they want to retain their leadership on land development and land supply issues. “We want to keep doing what we’re doing, basically, and keep doing it better.”