Mike Rann: Great cities need strong leadership, backed by a plan

5 September 2012

Hon. Mike Rann, Former Premier of South Australia and CNP Fellow for Democracy and Development blogs about what Australia's states can do for its cities, as part of his series of posts for CNP

In Australia there is renewed national interest in cities after years of neglect. The current Federal Government, in office for less than five years, has already invested more in urban public transport than all previous national governments combined since Australia's Federation in 1901. It has also doubled its road budget during difficult economic times.

Australia, despite its outback image, is one of the world's most urbanised nations. Just over half the world's population lives in cities. In Australia it's a massive 75%. 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coastline. Cities are also our biggest economic generators accounting for 80% of Australia's GDP and three out of every four of our workers.

And while four of Australia's cities - Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney - routinely rank in the top ten of the world's 140 most liveable cities, they are under increasing strain with growing but ageing populations, serious housing affordability problems, increasing congestion and urban sprawl. Congestion problems alone, if not addressed, will cost the Australian economy some $20 billion a year in lost productivity by 2020. That's not surprising given that freight movements will double by 2030.

So Australian governments - Federal, State and Territory - have committed to a reform process where city planning systems must meet nationally agreed criteria. They must show how they are providing for nationally significant economic infrastructure such as transport corridors, airports and ports, intermodal connectors and utilities. They must also show how they are providing for an appropriate balance between infill and greenfield development. And they must demonstrate how they are planning for population growth, housing affordability and climate change mitigation. They must also show how they can better connect people to jobs given that working closer to home is better for everyone; more productive, less congestion, cleaner air and more time for families.

There is a significant carrot for States and cities to improve their planning systems. Future federal infrastructure funding will be guided by where the reform process has been successfully embraced.

So what was our approach for Adelaide, South Australia's capital city, and why is it regarded by the Federal Government as best practise in Australia?

Ultimately it was about embracing a plan and showing resolve in implementing it.

In Adelaide, we have a Capital City Committee where the Premier (roughly equivalent to a US Governor) senior ministers and bureaucrats meet regularly with the Mayor of Adelaide, several councillors and the CEO to discuss important issues. We also appointed a Minister for the City of Adelaide whose first incumbent, Dr Jane Lomax Smith, was herself a reformist Mayor.

One of the most significant moves we made as a government was the development of a 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide. This involved a much more strategic approach to the future development of our city.

Most people, in Adelaide and in many US cities, are concerned about the impact of urban sprawl. We have seen a pattern of development that has gobbled up huge tracts of green space in a so called effort to make housing more affordable. But this has too often proven to be fool's gold as residents in the outer suburbs of vast metropolitan areas become more dependent on cars, and expensive single occupancy travel. This approach also has frightening implications for the budgets of local authorities when citizens demand better infrastructure and services. So we embraced a longer term approach to planning to offer people greater choice on how they want to live.

The 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide is guiding the planning and delivery of services and infrastructure, such as transport, health, schools and community facilities. The main aim of the Plan is to better balance population and economic growth with the preservation of our environment and the protection of the heritage and character of our city.

The Plan's aim is to help Adelaide become a more vibrant, liveable and inclusive city and to grow in a managed way that doesn't threaten key primary production land. There was extensive consultation to produce a draft Plan. The draft was then released and exhibited for some months during which the government held extensive briefings with citizens, community groups, local government and professional organisations. A big commitment to consultation generated much debate - some of it heated - but this was crucial to getting the Plan right and enabling government to better appreciate how people wanted their city to grow and adapt during the next 30 years.

As a result of this consultation a series of changes were made to the draft including variations in the population targets for specific areas. A principal challenge of the Plan was how we could cope with an estimated population increase of 560,000 over the next 30 years and in doing so how we would underpin the creation of at least 280,000 new jobs. Much of the debate arising from the consultation process centred on the proposed distribution of people, housing and jobs. Policies concerning climate change were strengthened. Additional safeguards were added to address the impact of population growth on primary production in peri-urban areas.

Even though 560,000 is a relatively modest population increase - around 350 people a week - compared to estimates for other Australian cities, the make-up of our city will be transformed. There will be a greater proportion of people over 65, and a significant increase in households with one person or couples without children. This requires early action to ensure there will be a sufficient supply of a range of accommodation close to shops, services and public transport. The big growth in over 65s will also require long term planning for the expansion of health services and aged care facilities.

Perhaps the key recommendation of the Plan was there was an urgent need to create a more compact and efficient urban form that takes advantage of existing, as well as our planned improvements to transport networks and infrastructure. We are extending and modernising our tram and suburban train system, investing record expenditure in new roads plus a fivefold increase in infrastructure funding compared to ten years ago. We want to design Greater Adelaide to reduce car reliance and create more liveable, accessible and connected communities. The 30 Year Plan involves a major rethink of how we plan and design new housing, new neighbourhoods, - to break the nexus between growth and unsustainable resource consumption. Unless we do so we will risk our competitive advantage through inefficient land supply and costly infrastructure requirements.

To achieve our goals we have committed to move from the existing 50/50 ratio of infill development to fringe development to a ratio of about 70/30 in the last years of the Plan period. This will involve a much greater concentration of new housing along designated transit corridors to promote easier access to jobs and services and reduce our reliance on cars.

New transit oriented developments along transport corridors are at the heart of the 30 Year Plan. We want the vast majority of new dwellings to be within walking distance of public transport. To achieve this we will co-locate medium and high density residential housing, major retail and service outlets and major employers around railway and tram stations and bus interchanges. This approach will revitalise urban areas, maintain village integrity and provide the critical mass of population needed to make the upgrading of infrastructure cost effective over the life of the Plan.

For greenfield developments a different approach is being adopted in order to create more mixed use communities, higher densities, more efficient land use, walkable neighbourhoods, a greater mixture of housing types and new suburbs that are contiguous to main transport corridors.

The Plan will support a 25 year rolling supply of land for residential, industrial and commercial purposes. There will be a 15 year supply of land zoned at any given time. This will ensure that the supply of land and housing will contribute to keeping housing affordable. There will also be 5,300 hectares of new and regenerated land set aside to foster the creation of jobs.

The Plan will also support a more efficient planning system that will underpin economic performance and competitiveness, halving development times. This will give investors greater certainty by making it clear what development can occur in key locations.

In the 21st century cities can no longer either be neglected or be allowed to grow in a way that is destructive to their culture, character, liveability and environment. People are at the heart of cities and their needs should be paramount.

Sustainable, vibrant cities don't just grow organically. To improve our cities requires a plan that demonstrates that strong economic, social and environmental outcomes are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately great cities need strong leadership, backed by a plan.


Mike Rann is a Clean Revolution Ambassador

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