Parliamentary committee recommends Australia adopt a national settlement plan

A federal parliamentary committee has called on the government to develop a “national plan for settlement,” in a report that champions densification, high-speed rail and value-capture funding mechanisms.

Tabled in parliament on Monday 17 September, the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities’ report, titled Building Up and Moving Out, states that “a national plan of settlement must set out a vision for the development of cities and regions for the next fifty years and beyond.”

It also states that for decades there has been no plan for how to accommodate the growth in Australia’s population – particularly in major cities.

“Australia is undergoing rapid change,” writes committee chair John Alexander in the report. “[Our] cities and regions are not sustainable in their current form, and will become less sustainable as the population grows and ages.”

The committee has made a total of 37 recommendations, including that the government prioritize the development of a high speed-rail network connecting east coast cities, and encourage integrated masterplans for states and territories, regions and communities that link vertically across different levels of government.

Another recommendation is for the creation of a Minister for Cities and National Settlement, with a place in cabinet, to coordinate cities policy within government and have oversight of the development of the national plan of settlement, and a National Chief Planner, to provide independent expert advice on urban and regional planning and development.

The government currently has a minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population, who is not in the cabinet. The member for Ashton Alan Tudge was appointed to the role in August by the new prime minister Scott Morrison.

To achieve a sustainable future, the report notes, the national plan for settlement will need to deliver integrated urban planning that provides for accessibility, liveability, and economic social and environmental sustainability. It will need to address the spatial distribution of population, employment and services through densification and connectivity, particularly mass transit. It should also prioritize polycentric cities and allow for a diversity of housing types.

The report also includes findings from a visit to China, which the committee undertook as part of their inquiry.

“There are lessons for Australia in the Chinese approach to urban development and infrastructure procurement,” writes John Alexander. “In China there is a strong emphasis on integrated planning. Infrastructure development is directly connected to land use. There is a high level of masterplanning, ensuring that all development fits within a predetermined framework according to agreed priorities. These priorities are set broadly at a national level, years in advance, and implemented through masterplanning at the province and city level.”

The Chinese example also highlights the potential of value capture as a funding mechanism, the report states.

“The development of value capture as an organizing principle of infrastructure planning and procurement, and the reform of the taxation system to match its requirements, are fundamental to the significant investment in infrastructure required to ensure the efficient growth and functioning of Australia’s cities and regions,” the report notes.

In terms of policies in relation to cities, the report notes that federal government interventions have been “intermittent, without any sustainable policy development or implementation.”

The City Deals program, meanwhile, is praised as one with “great potential” but which will need significantly more resources to provide the sort of transformation required to meet future development needs.

Australian Institute of Landscape Architects president Linda Corkery welcomed the report’s focus on a national plan for cities.

“While we don’t fully agree with everything in the report, we’re pleased to see that a number of recommendations AILA made to the Committee earlier this year have been included,” she said.

“Improving the governance of cities and providing frameworks for a more cohesive planning system, through the re-endorsement of the Urban Design Protocol and consistent guidelines for urban green space, will be a positive step towards better outcomes for people that occupy our cities and the environment.”

The Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities comprises members from both the government and opposition, as well as from the cross bench, and is chaired by government MP John Alexander.

Infrastructure minister Darren Chester asked the committee to conduct the inquiry into the Australian government’s role in the development of cities on 30 May 2017.

To view the full 436-page Building Up and Moving Out report, head here.

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