Infrastructure Australia calls for national objectives for cities

A new report from Infrastructure Australia has recommended that the Commonwealth Government establish a framework of incentives to improve the productivity, liveability and affordability of our largest cities.

The report notes that Australia's economic prosperity is increasingly linked to the performance of our cities, with the four largest cities, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, generating 60% of national GDP in 2015-16.

Over the next 30 years the percentage of the population living in Australia’s four largest cities is predicted to increase from 58% to 64%. Sydney’s population is projected to increase by 2.4 million people, growing to be a city of 7.4 million, while Melbourne is projected to grow by 2.7 million people, to be a city of 7.3 million. Brisbane is projected to grow by 1.6 million people and Perth by 2.2 million people, delivering cities of just under 4 million and 4.3 million, respectively.

Infrastructure Australia CEO, Philip Davies said Australia needs to start setting national objectives that allow our cities to realise their full potential and remain globally competitive.

“The Australian Government is right to think that investment shouldn't just come in the form of give and forget grants. We need to introduce more structure and accountability by tying funding for our cities to clear national performance outcomes.

The paper says that with greater national leadership we have the opportunity to structure our infrastructure funding in a way that incentivises the delivery of nation-shaping reforms.

“That is why we are recommending that the Australian Government establish a consistent framework of incentives to drive the delivery of national benefits within our cities at the project, place and reform level”, Mr Davies said.

The new framework would include a hierarchy of three incentive types:

  • National Partnership and Project Agreements which make project funding contingent on meeting specified outcomes across the project lifecycle and demonstrated economic benefit.

  • City Deals which apply a series of locally and nationally informed objectives to a city or part of a city, and make infrastructure payments for the area contingent on meeting those objectives.

  • Infrastructure Reform Incentives which would provide additional infrastructure funding above existing allocation in return for the delivery of policy and regulatory reform focused on improving the productivity, liveability and affordability of Australian cities.

To be successful, the design and implementation of these incentives would need to be informed by a well-evidenced national investment and reform agenda for Australian cities.

The report outlines a proposed reform agenda, including 15 recommendations for implementing it.

These include:

  • Australia’s largest cities should establish institutions and processes which enable the delivery of metropolitan-scale governance. There are a number of pathways this reform can take, ranging from the establishment of new agencies, to the amalgamation of existing local councils. The approach adopted should be tailored to match each city’s unique characteristics.

  • Australian governments should improve the flexibility, transparency and sophistication of current strategic planning tools and practices to improve decision making and deliver better planning outcomes for the long-term growth of our cities. Key actions include: Using more flexible planning tools, such as scenario planning, which account for uncertainty, and rigorously test the feasibility of future options against a range of different long-term outcomes; and Increasing the transparency of the assumptions, data and models which inform long-term planning tools to ensure communities can appropriately understand and test the proposals put forward by governments.

  • Australian governments should adopt a place-based approach when translating metropolitan visions into the sequencing and delivery of development with infrastructure. Opportunities exist for this approach to be applied to the planning, community engagement and governance processes currently used for delivering change at the local level.

  • Australian governments should improve the quality and accessibility of community engagement at the strategic planning stage of a city’s development.

  • Australian governments should work collaboratively to establish a stable national framework to respond to climate change and reduce emissions in line with our international commitments. A clear policy direction will provide certainty and stability to both public and private sectors, enabling our cities to play a central role in supporting Australia’s transition to a lower emissions economy.

The paper, Future Cities: Planning for our growing population, is available here

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