Australia's peak planning body is calling for a comprehensive study into changing settlement patterns in the regions to drive a strategic planning approach to regional development.
The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) says reasons behind population concentration in capital cities and the changing fortunes of rural and regional centres need to be better understood if the Australian economy is to compete on a global scale.
PIA President Neil Savery said better planning in rural and regional Australia can only be done with better knowledge of environmental, social and cultural drivers of population change and settlement patterns. "We are calling on a well resourced program to give all levels of government the tools needed to build a strategic planning approach," Mr Savery said.
"Much has changed in the regions in the past 50 years and government has generally supported the view that each should capitalise on location-specific advantages.
"Developing region specific policies however would indicate a rather vague role for planning with no interconnectedness to an overall framework," he said.
PIA is calling for the drafting of a framework for all Australian State and Territories to identify networks of regions, major centres and linked rural areas so more detailed regional planning strategies can be developed.
Neil Savery said one of the key factors would be the contributions made by local communities.
"We are calling for the resourcing and empowerment of local communities to contribute to these frameworks. What we are proposing cannot be unilaterally imposed by central governments and will need to be developed locally through strong local leadership and formal partnerships.
"In the past two decades rapidly increasing technology and the forces of globalisation have contributed to the massive change in development in regional Australia.
"PIA has outlined a number of policy principals and considerations for this process. For instance we believe regional centres can offer a real alternative to the continued sprawl of bigger centres.
"If employment and transport links can be achieved in these centres, they can offer better lifestyles for families and older people.
"PIA wants the idea of a planning approach to regional development based on state and regional frameworks. We will also help to identify ways and means of resourcing and empowering local communities within the framework.
"We believe the Department of Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government has a key role to play in facilitating and building capacity to support better planning for rural and regional Australia.
"The first step is to have a comprehensive investigation into those issues that drive settlement patterns and population movements. We need an analysis of population growth and the role played by immigration and understanding of the environmental, cultural and social drivers behind the movements," Mr Savery said.
The Planning Institute of Australia's complete policy detail on regional and Rural Development can be found at the Planning Institute of Australia website at <http://www.planning.org.au/policy/policy-platform>.