Part 1 of the report (Chapters 2–4) addresses the development of cities and regions at a national and regional level. Chapter 2 discusses the need for integrated planning at a national level, while Chapters 3 and 4 focus on the integrated planning and development of cities and regions respectively.
Australia is undergoing rapid demographic changes. Population growth, increasing urbanisation and an ageing of the population are having a substantial impact on the distribution of population, employment, opportunities and services.
These changes are currently occurring in a largely unplanned and uncontrolled way. This chapter will look at the impact demographic change is having on Australia’s cities and regions. It will then look at how we may address this—how change may be better managed though the development of a national settlement strategy. It also discusses how this national vision needs to be underpinned by a system of multi-tiered integrated planning, including the master planning of cities and regions in order to make them more sustainable, accessible and liveable.
Populations and the pattern of settlement
Australia is experiencing rapid population growth; a trend which is expected to continue well into the future. A number of stakeholders told the Committee that this has real implications for the future of Australia’s cities and regions.
CSIRO noted that ‘under a medium growth scenario, Australia’s population is projected to double by 2075 (ABS 2013a)’, and that ‘the large majority of this growth is expected to occur in towns and cities’. The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) observed that, ‘based on current immigration, fertility and life expectancy trends, Australia’s population is expected to double over the next 60 years’. This would ‘place pressure on settlements that accommodate growth’. This growth would ‘in turn require additional land supply (infill and greenfield) to accommodate associated housing and employment needs as well as different infrastructure and services’. The PIA noted that the ‘ability to address these pressures in a sustainable and feasible manner requires integrated land use and infrastructure planning, coordination and delivery’.
The Centre for Urban Research at RMIT observed that ‘continuing rapid growth is now regarded as an enduring feature of Australia as a nation due to natural increase and through immigration (ABS 2016)’. It noted that ‘overwhelmingly this growth is adding to the population of the state and territory capital cities’, and stated:
The headline growth statistics show that the combined population of these capital cities increased by 2.9 million people (22%) between 30 June 2006 and 30 June 2016. Melbourne had the largest growth in the ten years to 2016 (964,600), followed by Sydney (773,600), Brisbane (452,000) and Perth (445,100). Within the capital cities this growth is concentrated in the outer suburban growth areas. In Melbourne, there has also been significant growth in the inner city.
Population growth in the major cities
Sydney and Melbourne have both experienced high population growth in recent years and are expected to continue growing at a high rate. The NSW Government noted that Sydney experienced ‘a 36 per cent population increase between 1991 and 2016 (3.4 million to 4.7 million people). Between 2006 and 2016, Greater Sydney’s population growth rate was around twice that of the rest of NSW. Over the next 40 years Sydney’s population is expected to grow to 8 million people.’
The Victorian Government stated that ‘Victoria is currently experiencing its third population boom, rivalling the gold-rush and post-War booms’:
In the last decade, Victoria’s population grew by over a million and is forecast to grow by 2.2 million people to 7.7 million by 2031. Much of this growth is concentrated in Melbourne, which added nearly one million new residents over the period and is predicted to soon surpass Sydney as Australia’s largest city.
This rapid growth had brought ‘profound demographic changes’:
Between 2015 and 2051 Melbourne is projected to grow by 3.4 million people, from a population of 4.5 million to almost 8 million—and the population is ageing. By 2051, the percentage of Melbourne’s residents aged over 65 is projected to increase from 13.8 per cent to 20.5 per cent. During the same period, Victoria’s total population is projected to reach 10.1 million, however it is expected that growth in regional areas will be uneven. Forty per cent of all regional population growth over that period is forecast to occur in the regional cities of Greater Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat.
The Victorian Government noted that this growth had both benefits and challenges. It observed that ‘population growth has the potential to provide Victoria with the critical mass of people and skills we need to build better infrastructure for our cities, suburbs and towns; deliver services to our ageing population; transition to a low-carbon economy; and profit from the opportunities of the Asian Century’. The challenge was ‘to manage this growth so that Victoria maintains its enviable liveability and prosperity. Unless action is taken now to prepare for population change, climate change and economic change, Victoria will, in the years to come, become less liveable, sustainable and prosperous.’
Other major cities were also experiencing rapid growth. For example, since 2001 South East Queensland’s population ‘has grown 38 percent to 3.4 million. By 2041 it is projected to grow to 5.3 million, an additional 2 million people.’ The Queensland Government observed that ‘the majority of growth will occur in existing urban areas’, and that South East Queensland ‘is the most urbanised region in Queensland, accounting for 70 per cent of the state’s population’.
Uneven pattern of population distribution
The uneven pattern of this population growth was highlighted in several submissions. Under current projections, population growth is expected to be concentrated in existing major cities. Engineers Australia observed that:
By 2030, Australia’s population is projected to increase by 7.4 million to 30.1 million at an average annual rate of 1.6%. The projections suggest that population growth in capital cities will be much higher than in the regions, so that almost two-thirds of the increase to 2030 will be in these cities with only 29% in other locations, including all of Australia’s smaller cities. The populations of Sydney and Melbourne will increase to over six million; Brisbane and Perth will increase to over three million and the other capitals will experience similar growth. Only in Queensland will population growth outside the capital rival growth in the capital.
SGS Economics and Planning identified a similar pattern in population, with population growth centred on major cities and ‘large parts of regional Australia … facing static or declining populations’. Taking the example of Victoria, SGS noted that while ‘total population growth in Victoria over the 2006 to 2016 period was 993,000, taking the population to 5.925 million … Only 20,000 of this growth occurred in those Victorian regions located outside the 2 hour drive to Melbourne cordon’. It stated that ‘90% of the growth which took place in those parts of Victoria officially classified as ‘regional’ occurred in areas within 2 hours drive of central Melbourne’. Looking more widely, SGS observed that:
If the capitals and their 150 km radius zones are set aside, Australia has only 5 cities with populations of more than 50,000. All but one of these (Launceston) is located in Queensland. This further underlines the role of the metropolises in hosting specialised business services and, ultimately, in powering regional population growth.
LeadWest highlighted the high population growth rates of the outer suburbs of our major cities, stating:
At the 2016 Census, the residential population of Melbourne’s West had grown from 2011 by a further 16.5% to 834,621 people. This represents an annualised residential population growth rate of 3.0%. Population forecasts indicate that the region will accommodate more than 40 per cent of metropolitan Melbourne’s population growth over the next 40 years.
The impacts of growth
In its submission, Sustainable Population Australia (SPA) highlighted the costs of rapid population growth. It argued that ‘regardless of the method in which we continue to grow cities, the costs on infrastructure must be considered’, and that ‘a higher population growth rate means a greater proportion of total economic activity has to be dedicated to expanding infrastructure’.
SPA noted that ‘the public cost (across all levels of government) per extra person for Gross Fixed Capital Formation (largely infrastructure) is at least $100 000 with some estimates much higher’. SPA cited the work of Queensland University researcher, Dr Jane O’Sullivan, who stated:
These analyses show that acquiring the durable assets to support population growth has historically cost around 6.5-7% of GDP per one percent population growth rate. Thus, if Australia’s growth is 1.5% p.a., around 11-12% of GDP is diverted to the task of acquiring infrastructure and other durable assets, merely to extend to the additional people the level of service already available to the existing population.
SPA observed that the ‘long-term average cost has been compounded in the last decade by the much higher cost of retrofitting already built-up areas, and the dis-economies of scale of high rise construction’. It noted ‘for example, the East west link tunnel was costed at $1 billion per kilometre, around twenty times higher than above-ground roads and rail’. SPA also highlighted the environmental cost of infrastructure, ‘as all infrastructure requires the use of scarce resources and energy to make and operate. We are not making our cities more environmentally resilient by concreting over them.’
In a similar vein, the National Growth Areas Alliance (NGAA) argued that ‘in order to consider and plan for sustainable transitions in existing cities, it is necessary to properly understand the geography of population growth and the role these population hotspots are playing in our cities’. NGAA noted that ‘Australia’s population growth is faster than many comparable nations. In the fast growing outer suburbs, this was amplified, with the population growing by 3.0% (+133,239 people) in 2015-16’, and that the rate of economic growth ‘was 1.4% for the same period’. The impact of this growth had fallen disproportionately on the ‘fast growing outer suburbs’, which housed ‘both a disproportionate number of immigrants, that come as a result of Federal policy, and also sustaining a high level of births (23% of all Australian births in 2015)’. NGAA stated:
Research by the late Professor Graeme Hugo and Kevin Harris demonstrated the ‘over representation’ of permanent migrants in NGAA areas, with one in five settling there between 2006-2011. Especially significant, they said, in terms of support required, is the 28.7% of all humanitarian arrivals settling in these areas.
They also said that these areas are absorbing:
a disproportionately large share of national growth in population and households—on average twice their share;
a disproportionate share of growth in dependent children and youth groups;
faster growth in the aged population than the nation, albeit off a lower base;
a disproportionately large share of those who moved within Australia.
In the outer suburbs, population growth was outstripping jobs growth ‘resulting in a worsening jobs deficit since 2006 and the consequent “nightmare commutes” so often spoken about’. Furthermore, ‘there is also still a skills gap with 13% of residents in these areas having a bachelor degree compared to the national average of 19%’. NCAA noted that while ‘high tech jobs are emerging strongly, there is still a long way to go’.
Other significant population trends were identified in the evidence presented to the Committee. MacroPlan Dimasi noted that: the population over seventy years of age is expected to double by 2051; strong population growth in our capital cities is underpinning Australia’s economic growth; employment growth is concentrated in the services sector; and ‘High paying tertiary sector jobs are heavily weighted to the 20 major cities with populations greater than 100,000’ and ‘they decrease the further you move from the capital city of each state. MacroPlan Dimasi argued that:
Without policy direction, the focus for population and employment will increasingly concentrate in capital cities and for the next 15 years this will mean Melbourne and Sydney, (including their hinterland and Canberra) followed in the long term by Brisbane and Adelaide.
A similar point was made by Urban Taskforce—without policy intervention, Australia’s major cities were condemned to an increasingly unsustainable future:
Over the past century, Australian cities have evolved as low-rise suburbs spreading out from high rise urban cores where jobs were located (City 1). As the biggest cities (Sydney, Melbourne) have reached populations approaching five million people the century old low-rise mode of urban development is not sustainable. A population heavily dependent on private vehicles using the road network to access cities and centres only leads to congestion, pollution and hours of time travelling to and from work which eat into family and leisure time.
Urban sprawl was having a number of other impacts. The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) observed that the populations of Sydney and Melbourne exceeding 7 million people each by 2061 would cause ‘a dramatic increase in pressure on infrastructure’, and that Australia’s ‘60 per cent growth in population by 2050 will significantly affect the way we consume energy’.
SPA also noted that urban sprawl was coming at a cost:
By virtue of our increasing infrastructure deficit and indicators that our capital cities are struggling to keep up with growth, we are becoming increasingly limited in our ability to reduce our per-capita footprint. This is because suburban sprawl requires longer commutes, increased biodiversity loss, loss of agricultural land and all round higher carbon living. Higher density increases the urban heat island effect, and is requiring increasingly costly and high-environmental-impact infrastructure, particularly for transport tunnels. This is where the dichotomy of population versus consumption starts to break down when discussing sustainability. The two are interconnected.
Another impact of urban sprawl highlighted by SPA was the encroachment on food-producing lands, noting that around Melbourne ‘continued urban sprawl will reduce the city’s food bowl capacity significantly, from 40% currently to around 18% by 2050’. The University of Technology Sydney made a similar observation, stating:
Australia’s cities have tended to sprawl onto the peri-urban agricultural areas that have functioned as their food bowls. In a changing climate, with liveability concerns such as the urban heat island, pressures on biodiversity and declining food security, we risk rapidly losing the many benefits that peri-urban agriculture provides if we continue to sprawl onto these areas.
Professor Marcus Foth (QUT) argued that ‘population pressures facing Australian cities push them on a pathway towards further urban sprawl, which is entirely incompatible with enhancing urban liveability and quality of life’. He stated that ‘we cannot have “sustainable” cities without considering the effect the built environment has on regional areas and the natural environment’. CSIRO stated that ‘if urban sprawl remains a default setting, Sydney and Melbourne risk becoming megacities (over 10 million people), negatively impacting liveability (Weller and Bolleter 2013)’.
The need for national integrated policy responses
In response to these growing problems, stakeholders urged the need for policy coordination at a national level. Professor Barbara Norman, a planning expert from the University of Canberra, noted that ‘the negative social, economic and environmental externalities of continuing the urban sprawl of Sydney and Melbourne will only increase at significant national cost to national productivity, environmental degradation and social isolation on the urban fringe’. She urged new approaches to urban settlement, stating:
Exploring alternative scenarios such as investing in larger regional centres and/or examining new possibilities of ‘medium sized cities’ will require an integrated approach considering all the elements of sustainability (social, economic and environmental).
New policy approaches based on integrated planning and innovation were also advocated by the PIA. It stated:
With Australia’s population expected to double by 2075, it is important to consider how national policy can foster collaborative and dynamic urban planning responses. The Australian settlement pattern is increasingly characterised by population concentrated in capital cities. This is linked to the growth of the new economy, access to skills and global markets, migration and the cosmopolitan amenity potentially on offer. The process of globalisation has also reconfigured the forces driving development in regional Australia, including new technologies, production methods, new lifestyle preferences, and new business and investor location decisions. These factors are explored in PIA’s report: Through the Lens, Megatrends shaping our Future (2016).
Similarly, the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) in its submission stated:
The terms of reference for this Inquiry rightly identify that with Australia’s population expected to double by 2075, it is critical that national policy is developed to foster collaborative and flexible urban planning processes for more sustainable, liveable and resilient cities and towns. The growing populations of our capital cities puts stress on housing supply, infrastructure and resources. However, better planning for an increasing population also provides opportunities to make infrastructure more efficient, provide greater amenity and increase liveability.
The solution, according to Dr Ruth Spielman, Executive Officer of the National Growth Areas Alliance, was to remake the pattern of settlement:
To achieve more sustainable and liveable cities we also need more sustainable and liveable outer suburbs. Less requirement for travel, and especially less car travel, is the key to enhancing liveability, quality of life and energy and resource reduction through less time spent on roads, less spent on fuel, less congestion and fewer adverse health impacts.
To achieve this there will need to be a pattern of settlement and associated infrastructure investment to support jobs and services closer to home, better public transport connectivity, improved road networks and broadband connectivity. Education, health, recreation and cultural facilities and services are also critical to enable people and places to realise their potential.
She noted that ‘our current mode of allocation of infrastructure goods bears little relationship to the geographic location of population growth’, arguing that:
Actions that would assist include a policy position on addressing the differential spatial impacts of rapid population growth, planning and investment to support the development of polycentric cities, a more strategic approach to the placement of catalytic infrastructure to open up opportunities where they will make a real difference, and a dedicated national infrastructure fund for the fast-growing outer suburbs to address the backlog and what is needed going forward. Community infrastructure, skills development and jobs also require investment and, lastly, planning, policy and program coordination, such as a national growing outer suburbs taskforce.
Governments need to use all the levers at their disposal from tax incentives to strategic land purchase, infrastructure funding and placement of government offices to help achieve more sustainable, liveable cities.
A National Settlement Strategy
The need for a policy response designed to manage population pressures and settlement patterns was highlighted in the evidence presented to the Committee. Professor Barbara Norman observed that ‘Australia is one of the very few, if not the only OECD nation not to have a national plan for settlement and growth’. She noted that ‘while much of the planning and development of our cities remains the responsibility of States and local councils, the scale of urban growth is now at a level that affects national interests’.
The need for a national plan of settlement was emphasised by the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) which called for ‘the Australian government to embark on the development of a national settlement strategy’. This strategy would ‘articulate high-level expectations of the Commonwealth Government, particularly in relation to urban development policies’, and ‘provide for better and more consistent strategic planning across the country, and so we will see far more aligned planning’.
The PIA argued that we need a ‘holistic view of what the country should look like in the next 20, 30 or 40 years’. PIA President, Brendan Nelson, emphasised that ‘we are not suggesting that a national urban agenda or program involves the Commonwealth taking over planning responsibilities. That planning responsibility should remain with the states and territories, as should local government work, where they do the more localised planning.’ He emphasised, however, that ‘there are some issues at a national scale that do need greater direction and commitment from the Commonwealth, and it’s important that all levels of government work together in this regard’.
CSIRO also advocated national settlement planning and analysis, stating:
… a comprehensive, longer term, national settlement plan for how we sustainably accommodate future population growth in Australia is needed. This would bring an integrated spatial planning focus to the process of urban development across multiple scales (i.e. building, suburb, city, and nation). There are a number of national models and roadmaps that could be integrated to enable different scenarios of future population distribution and their implications to be explored. This would help identify how our cities and regions work and which interventions, including policy options, will be most effective for ‘steering’ urbanisation in Australia along desired pathways.
Urbis Pty Ltd, advocated the creation of a 50-year vision—Australia 2067—providing an aspirational picture of a desired future:
A 2067 vision sets expectations of what our future cities and communities will be. Where diverse, healthy, mixed communities thrive in a clean, green post-carbon environment, benefitting from high quality built places. Where public transport and other non-vehicle movement modes have largely replaced private vehicles. Where open and public spaces play are enhanced to play increasingly important roles in supporting the health and wellbeing of communities. Where renewable energy sources harnessed with new technologies have successfully transformed our cities into sustainable, highly energy efficient places.
This would be underpinned by a national settlement strategy, ‘a top down view of the long term desired settlement patterns and priorities across the nation’. The national settlement strategy would provide ‘direction on the physical extent, form and character of cities’:
It confirms limitations around the outward spread of the urban footprint, supplemented by definitive positions on adopting higher density environments through well planned urban renewal—accelerating transition of our urban forms from the horizontal to vertical. The strategy enshrines commitment to the protection and conservation of areas of national environmental, resource, agricultural or cultural significance. It provides the framework for a national green space masterplan.
Planning expert, Professor Sue Holliday, noted that ‘promoting the regional centres requires a clear settlement strategy across Australia’. She believed that:
as the major cities grow beyond their ‘liveability’ size, people will begin to look elsewhere for their employment and for their family wellbeing. Although Australians may look to the regional centres along the coast in the first instance, a settlement strategy must also look to the inland centres.
Engineers Australia (EA) called for the development of a population policy, stating:
In our view, the substance of the Committee’s inquiry cannot be achieved without the information contained in a comprehensive national population policy. The absence of this information means that land use and infrastructure planning will continue to be driven by a catch-up approach, a situation not conducive to productivity growth and improvements in community well-being. Migration policies are important to the composition and skill levels of the population, but are not substitutes for population policies. We know that new migrants show strong preferences to locate in capital cities thus contributing to the projections outlined above and limiting the growth potential of locations outside the capitals. Without concerted action for change, present growth patterns will remain entrenched.
EA argued that the current situation pointed to a ‘serious disconnect between infrastructure development, land use planning and infrastructure planning’. It believed that ‘without information about future population distribution as well as size, land use and infrastructure planning will continue to hampered, the growth of capital cities will continue in line with projections and efforts to influence the development of Australia’s smaller cities will continue to be hamstrung’. EA recommended that ‘the Commonwealth Government should reconsider support for the Infrastructure Australia proposal to adopt a national population policy’.
Professor Paul Burton, Director of the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University, also argued for a strategy to manage population growth and distribution, stating:
I see no reason logically why a federal government shouldn't take a similarly spatial view about the country as a whole and say, ‘If we envisage an increase in the national population’—and that is principally going to arise through migration, although the rate of net increase is increasing as well—‘then why should we not have a view on where that might sensibly go?’
He argued that in the absence of a policy, most immigrants ‘will go to Sydney, Melbourne and some of the other capital cities until and unless those places become so intolerable that people then start to think about moving elsewhere simply to escape the horribleness of life in those places’. He did not regard this as sensible approach, stating that ‘if it’s logical and sensible for local governments to think about spatial distribution of activities—residential, economic and so on—and the argument applies to state governments, then there is no logical reason why the federal government shouldn’t do that as well’.
The Australian Local Government Association also advocated ‘developing a national settlement and population strategy’.
Not everyone agreed with the concept of a national settlement strategy. Mr Brian Haratsis, Chairman of MacroPlan Dimasi, argued that ‘if you decided to shift into a national urban settlement type approach, I think it would be doomed to failure’. His reasoning was that ‘if we had tried to have a national urban strategy before the last mining boom we would have got it 100 per cent wrong. We didn’t see it coming.’ He also highlighted the impact of technological change:
If I looked at history I would never have been able to have predicted this technology boom. I would never have been able to have predicted the automated vehicles. And 15 or 20 years ago we did not know there was going to be a smart phone. If I just went through the economic cycles in Australian history you would be taking some interesting leaps of faith at that national level.
Mr Haratsis did not believe that a national planning strategy was possible. Instead, he advocated ‘for example, considering major infrastructures that could influence the future, and then allowing local governments and state governments to plan around it. I would be a strong advocate for that.’ He also argued that ‘settlement planning should understand and extend planning models to create a new paradigm, as the current structure has resulted in infrastructure investment being focused in capital cities and mainly benefiting inner and CBD areas’. He noted that ‘it's almost a self-fulfilling prophecy that, if you let cities grow with increasing centralisation, you will always have a cost-benefit analysis which says, “Put more infrastructure into central areas.”’
Pursuing integrated planning
To be effective, a national plan of settlement must be underpinned by effective planning policies at a national, regional and local level. This system of planning must be multi-tiered and integrated, providing an element of master-planning across a range of issues and jurisdictions.
Multi-tiered integrated planning
The need for better planning systems—working in an integrated way within and across different levels of government—was highlighted in the evidence presented to the Committee.
CSIRO observed that ‘our cities are changing, but in an uncoordinated way, with each of our cities developing plans in isolation’. CSIRO pointed to a lack of clear vision as to ‘what type of future cities our nation wants’, whether we are ‘content to let our major capital cities grow into large mega‐cities’ or ‘want more and stronger regional urban centres’, and the ‘the consequences of each of these development pathways’. CSIRO argued for ‘a comprehensive, integrated, longer term, national strategy for how we sustainably accommodate future population growth in Australia’. The strategy should be based on ‘integrated spatial planning with a focus on our national settlement patterns and interconnections between cities and regions’. CSIRO noted that ‘our emerging understanding of cities as complex systems is helping identify how cities work and which interventions, including policy options, will be most effective for “steering” our urban trajectories along desired pathways’; and that ‘the development of a national settlement plan would ideally be supported by research evidence and data’. This capability ‘could be used to support a multi‐level and multi‐actor stakeholder engagement process to explore scenarios of future population distribution and urban investment across Australia’. CSIRO believed that:
There are significant opportunities to plan the delivery of sustainable, liveable, higher density residential development throughout Australia … which could be usefully informed by a national settlement plan that provides an overarching vision and strategy for delivering our cities of the 21st century.
Mr Stephen Kanowski, of Deloitte Access Economics, agreed. He noted that ‘our cities have a significant and increasingly important role in the nation’s ongoing prosperity’ and that ‘the organisation, operation and planning of our cities is a complex, multi-governmental task’. There needed to be ‘a shared vision between and across government, and the non-government sectors as well’, and much better integration of different facets of planning. This required ‘leadership from the federal government and cooperation with state and regional governments’, and ‘direct financial support and also involvement by the non-government sector, be it not-for-profits or for-profits’.
Mr Kanowski identified ‘five key features around productive and sustainable cities’:
One is having a vision. You need a common city vision and plan through an economic development lens. It’s not about infrastructure and it’s not about civics; it’s about growing an economy which is sustainable and resilient—particularly resilient. It’s about governance, collaboration and partnerships across government and the non-government sectors focused on outcomes, not focused on process or who’s got the largest total and who’s got the biggest role; it’s, ‘What are we providing for the communities which we are serving?’ It’s integration, land use and transport as well, but what about other utilities? What about digital networks? What about health, education, leisure and social outcomes? It’s a very integrated system. At the moment, we are locked into producing single infrastructure plans, land use plans, health precinct plans and so forth. They’re not communicating and they’re not connected. It’s that connectivity that’s important, because as we move forward it’ll be connected. By and large they’ll be renewable, electric and communicating with each other. A lot of it will be autonomous as we move forward over time as well. I think in terms of connected, electric or renewable and autonomous. That’s part of our future cities. Investment needs to be prioritised and funded based on the vision, in fairly broad terms and with a rigorous cost-benefit analysis and those sorts of things, but also recognising that there is more to life than simple, hard numbers. There are social and soft factors that must be brought into the equation and considered. The last one: outcomes—metrics on outcomes that reflect the vision and then guide that future investment.
Urbis urged higher quality and greater consistency for metropolitan strategic planning. It stated that ‘metropolitan plans are the critical interface between national and state objectives and detailed local outcomes’. They guide ‘major changes to land use, built form, movement, and open space, defining the character of the city. It is where planning and infrastructure investment align’. Urbis noted, however, that ‘metropolitan strategic planning in Australia has a patchy reputation’:
Short lifespans, shifting goals affected by changes of government, insufficient research funding, lack of integration within and between government agencies, and absence of detailed delivery plans, have impacted the effectiveness of plans.
Urbis suggested that ‘increased funding for research and commitment of effort is needed to ensure that metropolitan strategic planning rises to a higher level’. Ideally, bi-partisan processes would be adopted, ‘facilitating agreement to metropolitan objectives, with major initiatives and priorities resilient to changes of government’. It noted that ‘while metropolitan plans must reflect the unique aspirations of each geography, common criteria for plans should be developed, including’:
Planning for growth over 15 and 30 year timeframes.
Demonstrating alignment with national urban policies.
Providing structured housing and employment lands release programs capable of meeting demands.
Demonstrating appropriate between greenfield and infill development emphasis.
Mapping of priorities for infrastructure and other investments with associated responsibilities and timeframes for delivery.
The Local Government Association of South Australia (LGA SA) observed that ‘there is currently no national urban development framework for Australia’ and indicated that, as part of the creation of national urban development policies and strategies, ‘a national urban development (or ‘settlement’) framework could be developed that could drive settlement patterns across the country, and ensure new settlements are viable’. The LGA SA indicated that:
In the same way as multi-tier government collaboration would assist in targeting investment where it is needed, a settlement framework could ensure that growth patterns are strategic, and only occur in areas that can be sustainably serviced by reliable and affordable transport, clean energy, water and waste.
LeadWest argued that ‘it is critically important that the Australian Government works with other levels of government to provide the public policy settings and public investment contributions that assist the development of cities’. It was LeadWest’s view that ‘integrated city planning of transport, economic and residential growth, community infrastructure and services, in both core metropolitan and suburban growth areas, will have intergenerational impacts for both the local communities and for greater metropolitan and regional areas’.
Consult Australia stated that ‘delivering an integrated strategic approach to infrastructure planning and prioritisation, will facilitate better urban and regional development through support for a long-term pipeline of coordinated infrastructure projects, supporting productivity and jobs growth’. The Regional Australia Institute urged strategic development planning for regional communities, ‘that includes all levels of government and non-government players’. It noted that global experience demonstrated that best practice planning ‘is achieved with all government and non-government leaders (including private business) involved and with strong leadership and capacity to deliver’, and that ‘the Australian Government has a role in making “best practice” planning happen for all Australian cities’.
Master planning is about creating a unified long-term concept for a location or region that connects the physical, social and economic environments and their interactions in a coherent framework in pursuit of coherent outcomes. Master planning was considered an important feature of urban and regional development by a number of stakeholders.
Mr Stephen Kanowski, of Deloitte Access Economics, stated that ‘for each of our major cities and regions, we should have an economic development master plan’. He argued that ‘you need to have those master plans as to what we are trying to develop across our different sectors, whether it is tourism, education, agriculture, resource development or whatever’. He indicated that ‘a key role for the federal government is to drive that process towards those large, longer term economic master plans for our cities and our regions’. He suggested that ‘without that framework and without that vision, it is very hard to see where your infrastructure and where your soft and your hard things actually fit within the longer term’.
The Regional Australia Institute (RAI) identified master planning as a key requirement of regional development, stating that ‘the absence of master planning at significant scale for regions holds back the potential future for these places and their relationships with major cities’. The RAI saw ‘an opportunity for the Australian Government to coordinate master planning of Australia’s network of small cities which extend across the nation, appearing in each state and territory’. Master planning would improve the outcomes of existing government programs and enhance the application of City Deals to regional centres.
The Green Building Council of Australia also advocated master planning of regional communities. It noted that:
Regional cities and towns and growth areas compete with capital cities and other regional centres for talent and investment. Encouraging and empowering regional centres to demonstrate leadership in sustainable development and master planning provides an opportunity to attract people, companies and investment, while establishing liveable, affordable economic centres that can ease the pressure on our capital cities.
The GBCA suggested that ‘master planning of regional communities provides an opportunity to consider and include all the elements of successful and thriving urban centres’. It stated that ‘the opportunities identified already in this submission to catalyse better urban environments through the Australian Government leveraging infrastructure investment, urban renewal and city deals applies across communities, and includes regional centres’.
Ms Marianne Richards, of the Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA), alluded to the current ‘patchwork’ approach to planning in regional Victoria, noting that ‘when you lay them side by side together, and even at their interfaces with the metropolitan areas, things don’t always quite match up’. The TCPA urged the ‘development of master planning of regional centres and communities’. Ms Richards noted that the TCPA submission ‘deals with the sustainable urban form, which considers access to jobs, schools, services and family needs in a very integrated way. So it is about access; it is about networks.’
Professor Jago Dodson supported the concept of master planning, as long as we avoided the ‘firm, inflexible master planning processes’ of the past. He thought we could ‘develop a contemporary version of that that is not too deterministic and focuses on the big picture’.
Dr Jaz Choi, Director of the Urban Informatics Research Lab at the Queensland University of Technology, was less sanguine about the prospects of master planning. She cited the example of Songdo, in Korea, ‘which is always mentioned in smart cities discussions’, but which ‘is a failure, and I think we need to acknowledge that’. She thought ‘big cities like Seoul and Tokyo realise that it is impossible to master-plan all the urban developments’, highlighting the dynamic mix of youth, technology and social entrepreneurship that was driving change in these places, and the inevitability that the success of some communities and regions would accompany the demise of others. She stated:
In Japan that is the kind of thing I am talking about. Some towns will die out. We need to accept that and build infrastructure around it, and think about not just reviving everything but selectively and strategically think about where people would like to go. That is where the cookie-cutter approach would not work. All the regional cities just because we have infrastructure would not attract people. So, with death, where would be the lively parts and what can we do around it? In Seoul and Tokyo, young people are leading that. Cities are leaving them to it. That sort of uncertainty, rather than master-planning everything, I think, is very important in terms of roles of the government from local to federal level.
The evidence presented to the Committee indicates that Australia’s current population growth and changing demographics are placing increasing stress upon our cities and regions. 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—for good or for ill—will depend very much on how they are managed.
There is widespread acceptance that change on a national scale requires a national vision. The scope and complexity of the challenges of growth require a reconfiguration of our understanding of what our cities are for, how they operate, and their relationship with each other and the surrounding regions. In short, what is required is a national plan of settlement.
This national plan of settlement must account for:
growth and change in population
growth and change in employment
the economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development of cities and regions
the relationship between cities and regions on a national, regional and local scale
connectivity within and between regions, and between residence and employment.
The national plan of settlement must set out a vision of what our cities could and should look like over the next fifty years. It must set out in broad scale the pathway to achieving that vision and the resources required to achieve it. The national plan of settlement must also be flexible and adaptive—capable of responding to emerging trends and technology.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in conjunction with State and Territory governments, and in combination with the governance arrangements set out in Recommendation 28, develop a national plan of settlement, providing a national vision for our cities and regions across the next fifty years, providing for:
growth and change in population
growth and change in employment
the economically, socially and environmentally sustainable development of cities and regions
the relationship between cities and regions on a national, regional and local scale
connectivity within and between regions, and between residence and employment
resources for the implementation of the plan.
The national plan of settlement 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 continues to grow and age. Achieving the required economic, social and environmental outcomes for sustainability of our cities and regions will require a high level of integrated planning.
Plans must link vertically across different levels of government, addressing a common vision. They must link horizontally; providing infrastructure, housing, employment and services within a coherent integrated framework. Plans must link the provision of infrastructure with land use to maximise the value of both.
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, vertically and horizontally. Planning at all levels of government must integrate with those above, and ultimately with the directions set by the national government. Moreover, all planning of infrastructure is done in the context of broader urban 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 and implemented through master planning at the province and city level.
Master planning can conjure images of perfectly formed but sterile environments unfit for human habitation. A better picture is one that shows a coherent vision, in which all the different aspects of the urban environment are designed to optimise the whole. The Committee argues that there is an increasing need to ensure that our cities and regions are coherent entities, objectively designed to simultaneously achieve a range of outcomes for the benefit of their inhabitants.
People require affordable housing; access to employment; access to health care, education, culture and recreation; connections to employment, services and family; and environments that are conducive to physical and psychological wellbeing. Under conditions of high population growth, this is not achievable without the coherent vision which comes from master planning. The alternative is cities in which access is entirely a function of wealth and income, dysfunctional sprawl is matched by dysfunctional densification and population growth leads to increasing economic, social and environmental stress.
The Committee recommends that, as part of the development of a national plan of settlement, the Australian Government encourage the development of integrated master plans for States and Territories, regions and communities which link vertically across different levels of government; and horizontally, providing infrastructure, housing, employment and services within a coherent integrated framework. In addition, plans must link the provision of infrastructure with land use to maximise the value of both.
Various aspects of urban and regional development will be explored further in the report. This will include the need for integrated planning, managing the relationship between cities and regions, increasing connectivity, and ways of promoting liveability, accessibility, and sustainability.