Australia is undergoing rapid change. Population growth, urbanisation, the ageing of the population and the transformation of the economy towards service and knowledge based industries are causing profound changes in the urban and regional landscape. The outcome of these changes will depend on how they are managed. In recent decades, there has been no plan for how to accommodate the growth in our cities and population. The scope and complexity of the challenges of growth require a reconfiguration of our understanding of our cities and their relationship with surrounding regions. Managing these challenges requires a national vision—a national plan of settlement.
The national plan of settlement must set out a vision for our cities and regions for the next fifty years and beyond. It must take account of the fact that Australia’s cities and regions are not sustainable in their current form, and will become less sustainable as the population grows and ages. Achieving the required economic, social and environmental outcomes for the sustainability of our cities and regions will require a high level of integrated planning. This is not achievable without the coherent vision which comes from master planning both land use and facilitating infrastructure.
The successful development of both cities and regions is intrinsically linked. Regional development needs to be seen as part of a broader pattern of national development, with cities, towns and regions being developed as part of an integrated whole. This demands a high level of coordination in planning and governance by all levels of government.
Greater connectivity is an essential element of this joint development. Well connected cities and regions means that opportunities can be distributed across a wider population. High speed rail can bring distant communities within close proximity of each other. Access to employment, education, services and recreation would increase. Where someone lived would not predetermine access to opportunities. This in turn would enable a more dispersed pattern of settlement as new population centres would still have access to employment and services. This would allow the development of polycentric cities, potentially creating a pattern of population dispersal without the attendant vices of urban sprawl.
Another important catalyst for regional development is highlighting the economic and lifestyle advantages of regional communities. It would be useful to publish an index of the cost of housing, cost of living and wages at the scale of local communities, thereby giving people a direct comparison of their income and costs by locality. This index could do a great deal, in conjunction with better regional connectivity, to promote the benefits of living outside the major cities
The urban form must adapt to agglomeration. Part of this adaptation is densification, making the urban form tighter and more accessible. Densification has the additional benefit of reducing the environmental and spatial footprint of cities and is essential to the economical and efficient delivery of services. Without densification, cities will suffer from increasing sprawl. Greater connectivity ensures greater accessibility, meaning the benefits of agglomeration are accessible to more people. But densification rapidly turns into over-development if not incorporated into a master plan of infrastructure, service provision and simple connectivity. Improved connectivity is an essential element of maintaining economic productivity and social well-being. The ultimate expression of agglomeration, densification and connectivity is the 30-minute city.
The importance of highly integrated planning at a national level was emphasised on the Committee’s visit to China. There are lessons for Australia in the Chinese approach to urban development and infrastructure procurement. In China there is a strong emphasis on integrated planning. Infrastructure development is directly connected to land use. There is a high level of master planning, ensuring that all development fits within a predetermined framework according to agreed priorities. These priorities are set broadly at a national level, years in advance, and implemented through master planning at the province and city level.
The China visit also highlighted the potential of value capture as a funding mechanism. Value capture is employed successfully by MTR in Hong Kong under the ‘rail and property model’. The benefits to government include a free transport service, the land premium from lease of land, and an ongoing dividend from MTR’s profit. The rail and property projects are implemented together in a coordinated way creating multiple uses of the same land. The outcome is rapid and coordinated development of infrastructure and commercial and residential space.
Value capture should be part of the conception of any infrastructure project to equitably capitalise on taxpayers funds invested. It should be incorporated organically into its planning and development. Suitable value capture mechanisms should be identified and applied from the outset. Ideally, this should involve coordination between different levels of government and project developers to ensure a maximum return on investment. The potential for value capture to contribute to the development of infrastructure was discussed at length in the Committee’s previous report, Harnessing Value, Delivering Infrastructure. The Committee considers that the recommendations in that report are more relevant than ever, and should be adopted by the Australian Government. The development of value capture as an organising principle of infrastructure planning and procurement, and the reform of the taxation system to match its requirements, are fundamental to the significant investment in infrastructure required to ensure the efficient growth and functioning of Australia’s cities and regions.
Parliamentary Inquiries are an under-appreciated tool that gathers on the ground evidence for the benefit of Ministers and Departments. Months of work have gone into this document; both from the deeply committed Secretariat and from the scores of Australian organisations who felt the need to give their independent and critical insights in this vitally important policy area. This is a good, substantive report that contains a strong evidence based plan for how to solve the many problems of our settlement. Previous reports by this Committee have received delayed and token responses from the Department; I strongly recommend this one is given the consideration that it richly deserves.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who have contributed to this inquiry. The Committee received a great deal of high quality evidence from across the nation from people committed to the progress of Australia’s cities and regions. This report should see that commitment turned into action. We are at a turning point right now. The evidence is clear. It is now time for action on this critically important policy area that affects Australians every day of their lives. I also thank my Committee colleagues and the secretariat for their enthusiasm and hard work during the inquiry and their contribution to the report.
The governing of Australia is at its best when representatives from both sides can come together to determine the facts and deduce the best course of action in consideration of only one thing the wellbeing of the Australian people now and in the future.
Therefore I am indebted to my Deputy Chair the Hon Sharon Bird MP and equally grateful to each member of the committee.
We have, I believe, produced a bipartisan vision for the future settlement of Australia.
Mr John Alexander OAM, MP, Chair