Federal Govt assertion that suburban expansion is unsustainable is not backed by the evidence

01 December 2010

Todays Federal Government assertion that suburban expansion is not environmentally sustainable is a disturbing shift in policy, according to the Urban Taskforce. The Taskforces chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said the Federal Governments bold claim in the Our Cities discussion paper, released today, is not backed up by any evidence.


The paper says (at page 42): The patterns of urban development that characterised Australian cities for the latter half of the twentieth century”of expanding low density ˜greenfield suburbs of detached houses accessed mostly by car”are no longer considered environmentally sustainable ….


Mr Gadiel said that all levels of government have been committed to ecologically sustainable development since 1992, but, until now, no-one had ever suggested that this should end the idea of a house with its own backyard. Ecologically sustainable development is an important principle, Mr Gadiel said.


It ensures that development meets the needs of Australians today, while conserving our ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.


Thats why urban development doesnt occur where it would have an unacceptable impact on biodiversity in fact in generally takes place on cleared land previously used for low-value agriculture or obsolete industry, such as quarrying.


Labelling new suburban development as ˜unsustainable is entirely unwarranted.


Its tantamount to an official denunciation of the everyday lifestyle of millions of Australians.


Mr Gadiel said the paper wrongly suggests that urban expansion will impact on our food supply.


Agricultural land adjacent to major urban areas makes up less than 3 per cent of land used for agriculture in the five biggest states, he said.


The paper (at page 33) says that the north-west and south-west growth centres of Sydney, for example, contain 52% of Sydneys vegetable farming properties…


Mr Gadiel said these figures overlooked the fact that 85 per cent of Sydneys vegetable consumption is supplied from outside the Sydney region.


Of the major vegetable crops, Sydney is only self-sufficient in mushrooms – the supply will merely move with the city, in the same way it has over the past 200 years, he said.


Mr Gadiel said the paper wrongly portrayed urban growth as requiring a trade-off between new development in the existing urban footprint and outward suburban expansion.


Home buyers should be in charge of their own destiny and decide for themselves what kind of lifestyle they want, he said.


Some will seek out pedestrian friendly apartment living close to public transport in the inner suburbs of our major cities.


There is a serious undersupply of this kind of compact home.


But many home buyers will still insist on a house with its own backyard in a suburban community.


Its the job of governments to allow more of both kinds of housing, not to try and re-direct people away from the housing type of their choice.


Mr Gadiel said todays report was right to highlight governance problems resulting from a multiplicity of councils covering our capital cities.


Sydney has 43 separate councils, Melbourne 31, Brisbane 5, Perth 30 and Adelaide 19 thats too many councils, he said.


The report says (on page 53) that for cities that have many small councils there may be merit in a national and community discussion involving all levels of government on reforming Local Government through the creation of larger entities that can plan, finance and coordinate over larger population areas, and achieve greater economies of scale in service delivery and asset management.


Mr Gadiel said this was a sensible move.


Bigger councils would deliver better decision-making that considers the regional benefits of larger scale urban development projects often overlooked by small parochial councils, he said.


Mr Gadiel said the reports suggestion that more action needed to be taken by state governments to ensure strategic plans were implemented is welcome.


The report says (on page 55) that there are elements of State and Territory planning legislation, such as whether States can undertake rezoning not initiated by Local Government, and the extent of third party appeals, which could be amended to enhance the ability of jurisdictions to put strategic plans into effect.


Mr Gadiel said that many city strategic plans simply gathered dust because of bureaucratic and political inertia.


More decisive action by state government in the implementation of their own plans would make a real difference.


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


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