‘Fast Five’ with Dr Nigel Stapledon – Macroplan’s new Chief Adviser

Nigel has a PhD in Economics from UNSW and a Bachelor of Economics with Honours from the University of Adelaide. He started his career in Canberra 1976-86, where he worked in the Commonwealth Treasury. He then worked at the Westpac Banking Corporation 1986-2003 where he was Chief Economist from 1993. Nigel has been at UNSW Business School since 2003 where he completed a PhD on the long-run history of house prices in Australia (1880-2006). At the UNSW Business School, he was Associate Head of School 2008-13, was the Andrew Roberts Fellow in Real Estate 2013-16, and is now a Research Fellow in Real Estate in the Centre for Applied Economic Research (CAER). He established and now coordinates the real estate teaching program at the Business School and teaches the Real Estate Economics and Public Policy course for both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Nigel is a regular commentator in the media on macro-economics and housing.

Sydney has been named one of the most unaffordable cities in the world. In your view, what can we do to combat the housing affordability situation?

People like living in Sydney because of its great beaches and harbour and national parks, so there is a ‘Sydney premium’ which has become more valued as the population has increased and incomes have risen. But that cannot explain the high cost of a block of land on the urban fringe which feeds into the cost of land across the whole city. That reflects a longstanding policy culture amongst planners to limit supply and pretend (or worse still believe) that that lack of supply has no effect on prices. Those high prices reflect the competition for the limited places available and then we are somehow surprised that high income earners outbid low income earners who are the ones being excluded.

People would like to believe that its all the fault of investors/foreigners etc. because that avoids the harder choices involved with allowing the city to go out (urban sprawl) and up (density).

Who are you backing to win the AFL premiership in 2017?

Born and raised in Adelaide but now long-lived in Sydney, I have a passion for the Adelaide Crows (there is only one team in Adelaide) and the Sydney Swans – the latter shared with my more fanatical sons and daughter – and we have been loyally attending games from the dark days of the early 1990s to the current successful period. My father taught all his grandchildren that all Victorian teams are innately evil, so as long as Sydney Swans or Adelaide win, or at least if no Victorian team wins, I will be happy. Mind you, I do think Melbourne is a great city – just shame about its football teams.

What upcoming approved project/development do you think will have the greatest impact on Sydney as a city?  

The revolution wrought by the motor car and truck in the early 20th century, and before that by trains and trams, are what have allowed cities to grow this past century or more. Transport is what ultimately ‘creates’ space and opportunity. So, after a period when this simple truth has seemingly been forgotten (still is by some) and transport infrastructure has been neglected, things are starting to happen in NSW.

No one project stands out to me. It is the aggregate effect of a whole bunch of (rail and road) projects which, in conjunction with new technologies (e.g. driverless cars), is going to transform the city and allow more people to enjoy living in this great city.

Why Did You Choose Your Profession?

When I grew up, we always debated local and world events around the dinner table. Economics is a great tool for understanding how the world works so I was naturally drawn to it.

My father wanted me to be a lawyer but when I turned up on the first day at Adelaide University for my first law lecture, I finished listening to the lecture but then walked over to the School of economics and switched – a decision I never regretted.

Economics, or urban economics, is a great tool for understanding how cities work. It’s just a shame that most planners – in part reflecting bad undergraduate training – prefer to ignore the logic of urban economics.

If You Could Time Travel, Would You Go To The Past Or The Future?

At my age, back to past seems like the logical answer. I certainly wish I were still young and fit enough to play hockey. After playing Aussie rules and soccer in primary school with let us say limited success, I switched to hockey at the age of 13 and then played that for 30 odd years with I should say quite bit of success. I retired when the physio told me I had been pushing my body beyond its limits for a bit (more like far) too long. The shared experience of triumphs and failures on the hockey field has given me many life-long friends with memories to share at the regular reunions in Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney.

But I am looking forward to some more grandchildren and that wins out any day.

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About MacroPlan:
MacroPlan’s experienced and qualified economists align their understanding of macro-economic forces with micro-economic variables such as geographic and industrial characteristics, demographics, labour market shifts, resource demand and commercial realities.  Contact Nigel Stapledon, Chief Adviser today to discuss your property research requirements.

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