PM unveils national urban development criteria

By: Jason Whittaker

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last night announced a revamp of strategic planning in Australian cities, proposing the development of new

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last night announced a revamp of strategic planning in Australian cities, proposing the development of new national criteria for urban development.

"This will be occurring for the first time in our country's history," Rudd told the Business Council of Australia (BCA) in Sydney.

"And the Commonwealth will now consider linking all future infrastructure funding to compliance with these criteria."

The criteria – listed below – would focus on delivering practical improvements in public transport infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, emphasise world-class design and architectural integrity, provide for the development of transport corridors and intermodal connections, and provide an "effective" framework for private sector investment.

"If the Commonwealth is to foot any significant part of the urban infrastructure bill, the Commonwealth will legitimately expect to have confidence in the integrity of the strategic planning system in our major cities," says Rudd.

"The goal is that our cities have strong, transparent and long-term plans for growth and high-quality urban development."

The criteria will be developed through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2010, in consultation with the States and Territories and the Australian Local Government Association.

The announcement follows the release of the BCA’s report card on the state of national infrastructure networks, Groundwork for Growth: Building the Infrastructure that Australia Needs, released Sunday (October 25).

The report (which was prepared for the BCA by Port Jackson Partners Director Rod Sims) is critical of infrastructure spending over the past eight years, including the stimulus package delivered this year, saying the spending was a catch-up on previous years’ underinvestment.

It is critical of the quality of urban transport planning undertaken by the States – particularly in Queensland.

"It is well known that the Commonwealth was surprised and disappointed with the quality of most of the urban transport plans and project assessments that were submitted to Infrastructure Australia," Sims writes.

The report calls on the Federal Government to formalise its role in national urban development, to work with the States on transport plans, and to improve urban transport planning, project assessment and investment to accommodate growth, reduce congestion and improve efficiency in public transport.

"The evidence of problems is clear," Sims writes in the report. "The onus is now on the Commonwealth Government in particular, but also on COAG to drive the required reforms."

The report calls on the Federal Government to take active steps to introduce congestion pricing and to improve public transport efficiency – including the private operation of some public transport – at a minimum.

"While the costs of implementing congestion pricing may not justify the benefits immediately in all cities, it will be important to continue to have a readily implementable plan to implement congestion pricing when appropriate," Sims writes.

"It is necessary, however, to design congestion pricing carefully and in a way suited to where it is to be implemented. Road users require viable alternatives, particularly well-functioning public transport."

The integrated plans should define target service levels and require regular reporting of performance against them, the report says.

"We should be pursuing policies that clearly target no further increases in per capita congestion costs on our roads and reduced congestion on our public transport at a minimum," the report says.

"If we do not plan for such outcomes they will never happen."

Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) has welcomed Rudd’s announcement.

IPA Executive Director, Brendan Lyon, says linking national infrastructure funding to nationally agreed reform presents a positive option.

"Of course Canberra must limit itself to high-level planning principles," Lyon says.

"States will always have responsibility for State infrastructure and planning decisions – but common principles are a sensible step forward."

BCA Sustainable Growth Task Force Chair, Rod Pearse, says Australia has a unique opportunity to confront its infrastructure challenges ahead of the next wave of Australian growth.

"Now we must put in place the infrastructure reforms required to improve both our economy and the quality of life in our cities and communities," Pearse says.

  • Provide for planned, sequenced and evidence-based land release that meets the housing needs of a growing population and keeps homes affordable.
  • Balance in-fill and greenfield development.
  • Implement credible plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – through initiatives such as energy efficiency measures, changes to town planning, practical improvements in public transport infrastructure and reform of building codes and regulations.
  • Adapt to the risks of climate change such as coastal inundation and more extreme weather events.
  • Emphasise world-class design and associated architectural integrity.
  • Provide for building and upgrading nationally significant infrastructure, such as transport corridors, intermodal connections and communications and utilities networks.
  • Provide for governments to take into account independent, expert advice on the objectives and implementation of their planning system.
  • Provide an effective framework for private sector investment and innovation in the urban infrastructure given that with the fiscal constraints on governments, the nation will need to harness private capital.

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