COAG agreement on city planning: The principles are fine, but its the delivery that matters

07 December 2009

Todays agreement between the Prime Minister and state premiers to a new regime for planning capital cities and reforming development assessment makes sense, but the hard work is yet to come, according to the Urban Taskforce.

The Taskforces chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said that the key to the whole exercise would be a massive increase in federal funding for urban infrastructure.


It seems that the Federal Government is moving beyond funding ˜one-off transport projects, to a more enduring commitment, Mr Gadiel said.


However, we havent yet seen any commitment by the Commonwealth on actual dollars once these new plans are in place by 2012.


State governments can no longer afford to fund all of their cities infrastructure needs, Mr Gadiel said.


The states need ongoing, sustained, federal assistance.


Mr Gadiel said that the new federally-backed strategic plans should avoid falling into the same traps as the state-plans they are replacing.


Weve seen a series of strategic plans that unnecessarily restrict the ability of property developers to build housing, workplaces and shops desperately needed by local communities, he said.


Strategic plans of this kind carry huge social and economic costs.


The sweeping prohibitions in some state plans are one of the reasons that Australia is currently so short of housing.


Usually when they fail, authorities gloss over the fundamental problems in their planning approach, and promise bigger, even better plans.


The key will be ensuring that the federally-backed plans make iron-clad commitments about publicly funded infrastructure, but still give the private sector the flexibility to respond to changing market needs.


Strategies should be adaptable – so they accommodate a wide range of potential changes in population and economic activity.


Plans must also ensure that the supply of land available for development – in greenfield and infill areas – always exceeds market demand.


This will help ensure that government regulation doesnt force up land values and depress development activity.


Mr Gadiel said the Federal Governments commitment to streamline approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act when implementing the new city plans was welcome.


Weve had the rather ridiculous approach where state and local council approvals have been streamlined to implement city plans but no federal action has been taken, he said.


Action to streamline federal environmental approvals in response to an agreed city plan makes perfect sense.


Mr Gadiel also welcomed news that the first COAG meeting in 2010 would agree on a timetable for housing policy reform.


This is a refreshing focus on housing affordability from Australias senior politicians, he said.


Were particularly pleased at promises to implement more efficient approaches to development assessment and to progress the release of surplus government land.


The Urban Taskforce is a property development industry group, representing Australias most prominent property developers and equity financiers.


For every $1 million in construction expenditure, 27 jobs are created throughout the broader economy.


The construction activity made possible by property developers contributes $78 billion to the national economy each year and creates 849,000 direct jobs.


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