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Planning growth in Australia’s largest cities

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Australia’s four largest cities—Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth—are facing a watershed moment in their development, according to a new report from Infrastructure Australia, an independent statutory body.

Between 2017 and 2046, the country’s population is expected to increase by 11.8 million people. “That’s equivalent to adding a new city, roughly the size of Canberra, each year for the next 30 years,” Infrastructure Australia said.

Roughly 75% of this growth will take place in the aforementioned cities. And while a growing population is a viable means of increasing national economic prosperity and liveability, it also presents very specific challenges.

“Are our cities going to grow out or up? How do we align the location of jobs with the needs of our changing economy? How do our infrastructure networks need to change to accommodate more demand? How can we ensure the world-class liveability of our cities is maintained and enhanced?” Infrastructure Australia asked.

The statutory body also referenced another published report, the Australian Infrastructure Plan, which outlines an evidence-based pathway towards more efficient and productive infrastructure for Australia’s future.

“Population growth will transform our cities. Our four largest cities are set to undergo a higher density urban transformation. Our aim for these cities should be to deliver high-quality, higher density living, connected by world-class infrastructure services.

“In our smaller cities, we should ensure their many and diverse advantages are maximised. The opportunity exists to ease the pressure on our larger cities by growing the populations of the smaller ones. Delivering these solutions will require us to reform how we plan and govern our cities.”

Infrastructure Australia used scenario planning to evaluate trade-offs inherent within potential long-term growth pathways for Melbourne and Sydney to 2046. Nine key findings have emerged from the scenario analysis—with the first three outlined below.

1. Planned growth will deliver the best outcomes.

The scenario analysis indicates that well-planned cities—where the location of jobs, homes, and their supporting infrastructure networks are coordinated—will deliver the best outcomes for communities.

“For both Melbourne and Sydney, the scenario which delivers the greatest proportion of greenfield development, the lowest population densities, and the lowest integration between land use and infrastructure has poorer job and infrastructure access outcomes for future residents,” Infrastructure Australia said.

“This makes clear that if our largest cities are going to successfully respond to growth, changes to their structure and operation, and the processes used to deliver these, will be needed.”

2. Well-developed public transport is vital to improving accessibility.

The report recommends that Australian governments increase investment in public transport infrastructure in cities experiencing massive population growth.

“Investment in mass transit is crucial to reducing congestion, increasing accessibility and reducing the rate of emissions growth,” Infrastructure Australia said.

3. A holistic approach to urban planning is needed to prevent traffic congestion.

While the report acknowledges that cars will continue to play an important role in the future, “across all scenarios, congestion significantly increases, and adding new roads is only part of the solution.”

As the population grows, the number of vehicles on the roads is bound to increase.

“Construction of new roads alone cannot accommodate this demand and alleviate congestion at the same time,” Infrastructure Australia said. “Land-use planning and transport network investment will need to be complemented by other approaches, including demand management mechanisms such as road user charging, and public transport investment.”



This article provides general information which is current as at the time of production. The information contained in this communication does not constitute advice and should not be relied upon as such as it does not take into account your personal circumstances or needs. Professional advice should be sought prior to any action being taken in reliance on any of the information.

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