Australia

National Urban Policy released

THE Australian Government today released its long-awaited national urban policy, calling it a long-term blueprint for making the nation's eighteen biggest cities and regional centres even more productive, sustainable and liveable.

Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese released the policy, 'National Urban Policy - Our Cities, Our Future: a national urban policy for a productive, sustainable and liveable future', at an address to the Property Council of Australia this morning.

With Australia one of the most urbanised countries in the world, Mr Albanese said the nation's "continuing economic prosperity will largely depend on how successful we are at making our cities work better."

The policy, developed by the Major Cities Unit, follows the release of a discussion paper and associated background and research papers last December, attracting over 150 submissions from industry and community representatives, urban researchers, members of the public and all levels of government.

The policy states that there are a number of reasons why an Australian National Urban Policy is critical to the future of the country. According to the policy, cities are where the majority of Australians live and are integral to the nation's economy and future prosperity.

However, the policy states that cities are facing significant challenges that need to be urgently addressed, which include Australia's ageing population, global warming and climate change and globalisation.

Mr Albanese emphasised that the national urban policy does not seek to weaken the role of state, territory and local governments, but instead aims to provide leadership and support.

"Importantly, we don't seek to diminish the role town halls and state or territory authorities play in shaping the character of their local communities.  Instead we're offering national leadership and a readiness to make strategic investments in support of the actions being taken by other levels of government," Mr Albanese said.

The overarching goals of the National Urban Policy are:

  • Productivity: to harness the productivity of Australia's people and industry, by better managing use of labour, creativity and knowledge, land and infrastructure;
  • Sustainability: to advance the sustainability of Australia's natural and built environment, including through better resource and risk management; and
  • Liveability: to enhance the liveability of cities by promoting better urban design, planning and affordable access to recreational, cultural and community facilities.

The policy aims to achieve these goals by delivering on 14 objectives, which include the integration of land use and infrastructure, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, protection of natural and built environments, improved accessibility, provision of affordable living choices and streamlined administrative processes.

Mr Albanese said that to progress implementation of the framework, last week's Federal Budget made an initial down-payment with a $181 million Action Plan for Our Cities which included: 

  • A $20 million Liveable Cities and Urban Renewal Program to leverage additional resources from state, territory and local governments for innovative solutions to poor urban design, high levels of car dependency, traffic congestion, a lack of open space and rising carbon emissions;
  • A National Smart Managed Motorways Trial to be developed by Infrastructure Australia and involving the retrofitting of smart technology to improve traffic flows along congested motorways and outer city roads, with $61.4 million available to co-fund projects with those states and territories which sign onto the government's national transport reforms; and
  • A new $100 million Sustainable Australia - Suburban Jobs initiative to develop job opportunities and employment precincts close to where people live in the outer suburbs of Australia's major capital cities.

Speaking to the Property Council of Australia this morning, Mr Albanese said that federal engagement with cities is not new, with past attempts including Gough Whitlam's Department of Urban and Regional Development in the 1970s and Paul Keating's 'Better Cities' initiative in the 1990s.

"A Labor Government is again re-engaging with our nation's cities," Mr Albanese said, adding that the Federal Government has a critical role to play in making cities more productive, more sustainable and more liveable.

Mr Albanese said that, in addition to the principles established in the national urban policy, future Federal Government infrastructure investment will be linked to the creation of strategic plans for all capital cities that meet nationally agreed criteria.

The plans, agreed to by state and territory governments at a COAG meeting in 2009, are to be in place by 1 January 2012. Mr Albanese also said he would like to see all cities with populations greater than 100,000 implement similar plans.

"Let me be clear, this is not a takeover of state and territory planning roles, but we will use all the levers at our disposal to drive, foster and encourage the creation of more productive, sustainable and liveable cities," Mr Albanese said.

Far greater investment needed

While welcoming the launch of a National Urban Policy, the Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) said that far greater investment and additional measures would be required.

"A national overarching direction and vision for Australian cities has long been needed and we commend the Federal Government on its initiative," said PIA President Dyan Currie.

"There's no doubt the initial investment of $181.4 million signals a new era in collaborative urban planning for Australia but a far greater investment will be needed to secure a sustainable future for our cities long term."

Ms Currie said the policy document recognises that many decisions made by the Federal Government impact on urban Australia but said it also needs to work in conjunction with other Federal Government initiatives, such as the population strategy that was released last week.

"The NUP is a positive step towards greater coordination and collaboration in planning for the future of our urban areas and it must go hand in hand with a robust strategy for addressing our population growth and demographic changes," Ms Curry said.

First step on a long, long road

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) said the government's new national urban policy is "just the first step on a long journey towards truly productive, sustainable and liveable cities."

GBCA Executive Director of Advocacy and International, Robin Mellon, said the new national urban policy outlines a broad commitment to an integrated approach to the design, delivery and management of our cities and demonstrates that the government is starting to listen to the concerns of Australians.

"However, we want to see comprehensive, integrated programs which drive this policy. Currently, there are not enough fully-funded programs available to realise this ambitious vision," Mr Mellon said.

Policy fills a major gap; scores 7 out of ten

The Property Council of Australia was welcoming of the new national urban policy but called on Australia's nine governments and 565 councils to agree on a funded implementation plan.

Property Council CEO, Peter Verwer, said the policy framework "fills a yawning policy gap in Australia's efforts to foster more competitive, sustainable and liveable communities."

The Property Council said two crucial steps would boost the effectiveness of the policy, consisting of the establishment of an independent Sustainable Communities Commission to drive long-term sustainable development at all levels of government and an enhanced revitalisation program for cities that builds on lessons learned from the Better Cities Program.

"As a guiding framework, the National Urban Policy deserves a score of seven out of ten," Mr Verwer said, adding that it sets a direction for urban Australia but needs to be supported by a detailed implementation roadmap.

The urban policy, 'National Urban Policy - Our Cities, Our Future: a national urban policy for a productive, sustainable and liveable future', is available from the Infrastructure Australia website at <http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/> or directly from this link (PDF: 3.45MB) <http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure/mcu/files/Our_Cities_National_Urban_Policy_Paper_2011.pdf>.

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