31 May 2011
The Federal Budget has taken some new, but small, steps towards improving the fabric of Australias cities, according to the Urban Taskforce. The Taskforces chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said the new measures are mostly good news, but represent only a small fraction of the federal investment that will ultimately be required.
Mr Gadiel said the promise of a $36 million top-down strategic review of infrastructure by Infrastructure Australia would help sharpen the Federal Governments accountability for its funding decisions.
This move gives Infrastructure Australia the resources and mandate it needs to take the lead on indentifying projects for federal funding, Mr Gadiel said.
It no longer needs to wait passively for state and local governments to serve it up project proposals.
This will remove the Commonwealths ability to blame state governments for poor quality funding submissions.
Now, if the Commonwealth is not funding vital urban infrastructure, they will need to explain why the need was not identified and scoped by Infrastructure Australia itself.
Mr Gadiel said that the $100 million four-year initiative to fund employment hubs in suburban areas is a very practical measure to reduce congestion in our big cities.
This is a very welcome move by the Commonwealth, he said.
Instead of banning or stopping urban expansion, they are now talking about pro-actively supporting employment growth.
This will help match jobs to the strong need for expanded residential areas at the edge of our cities.
Ultimately this scheme will need a lot more money, but it is an excellent start.
Mr Gadiel said the $20 million two-year scheme to fund urban renewal projects is welcome, but the funding allocation is modest and its focus on demonstration projects will limit its effectiveness.
This Commonwealth should be neck-deep in its support for urban renewal initiatives, but this program is really just a toe in the water.
Mr Gadiel said the $29.2 million four-year program to fund strategic assessments in seven high growth regional centres will help address the unnecessary red tape imposed by federal environmental laws.
Theres far too much duplication between state and federal environmental laws, Mr Gadiel said.
Many of the same species are protected at both a state and federal level, by different bureaucracies with different rules.
These strategic assessments will provide an opportunity to consider the federal environment issues in a growth region holistically, and make a single up-front decision about how biodiversity issues are to be managed.
This will reduce the need for expensive federal environmental reviews to be carried out for each individual planning application.
Mr Gadiel said the budget had also allocated $10.1 million for the development and monitoring of new sustainability indicators.
Its important that these indicators reflect the sustainability concerns of the mainstream community, and the Federal Government ensures that the process is not taken over by fringe groups, he said.
Mr Gadiel welcomed the announcement of the Prime Ministers decision to begin rigorous COAG process to lead the development of Commonwealth-State reforms.
The focus on ˜easing congestion suggests we might see action on the highly restrictive land use laws that are currently preventing sufficient new homes being built close to jobs, transport and services in the inner suburbs of our major cities, Mr Gadiel said.
The Productivity Commission is expected to publicly release its report to COAG on the reform of planning, zoning and development assessment laws next week.
Mr Gadiel said the decision to wipe $150 million in funding for the F3 to Sydney Orbital project from the forward estimates period was very disappointing. This effectively puts this major motorway project on ice – as far as the Commonwealth is concerned, he said.
The project would be part of the national highway network – making federal funding essential. It was identified by the new NSW Government as a missing link motorway that might be supported by the OFarrell Government in its first term.
The axing of this project will be a blow to anyone who drives on Pennant Hills Road regularly, and dashes hopes that we might see some better connectivity between Sydney and the Central Coast and Lower Hunter.
The Labor Party had promised to progress this motorway project in a 2007 election commitment.
The Urban Taskforce is a property development industry group, representing Australias most prominent property developers and equity financiers.