3 April 2012 – The states and territories capacity for strategic planning and report card against key performance criteria are neither uniformly good or bad. There are some high achievers in some areas that could be good exemplars for other jurisdictions, but overall there is huge room for improvement.

None of this is surprising.

The assessment is from the Council of Australian Governments Reform Council’s Review of Capital Cities Strategic Planning Systems.

https://www.coagreformcouncil.gov.au/reports/docs/capital_cities/review_of_capital_city_strategic_planning_systems.pdf released on Monday was predictably supported by the key industry groups. Why wouldn’t they support better coordination between levels of government, more consistent planning in terms of alignment with national objectives and so on?

It’s common sense. A lot harder to achieve.

This intense scrutiny of the evidence is the only place to start to integrate recognition of the capital cities.

There’s a lot of posturing by COAG members who are now part of the federal government’s political opposition party, but let’s hope as the perennial optimists say, this posturing is simply flying the flag for their troops and that they know that the only real way ahead is co-operation at a national level. One country.

After all it’s all very well for the states and territories to say the cities are their patch to govern, but the reality is, as the SGS strategic planning forum in Sydney last week pointed out, the states and territories no longer have the funds to do the big infrastructure projects that underpin a productive, efficient equitable and sustainable city.

Here are some of the highlights from the report:

The need for a big picture

Within the Australian system of government, no government has sole responsibility for the policies and functions relevant to a capital city. The council has reviewed state and territory government systems as directed by COAG, but the Commonwealth Government and local governments have significant responsibilities within capital cities.

The council acknowledges that there are limits to the capacity of state and territory governments to ensure the engagement and alignment of the Commonwealth and local governments to their strategic planning objectives.

Telling the right hand what the left hand is doing helps

In many cases, government departments charged with formulating economic policy and strategy, be they treasuries or other departments, are absent from strategic planning.

This means that strategic objectives may not be supported by detailed economic analysis and understanding about the government’s capacity to deliver on the strategic objectives.

This also means that treasuries are not engaged in the planning process and may not be committed to the objectives, directions and project –including expensive urban infrastructure project – produced by the process.

Jurisdictions that are largely consistent with this criterion showed significant integration across functions and agencies through all stages of the planning process.

They also showed strong alignment of agencies, often through lower layers of the planning system, to the unifying goals or objectives.

A hierarchy of plans…Queensland is exemplary

A hierarchy of publicly available long, medium and near term plans is in place in most strategic planning systems in Australia.

Most governments have a long term strategic plan, but not all jurisdictions have a long term strategic plan that specifically applies to their capital city.

Most governments have medium term prioritised infrastructure plans and land use plans.

Some governments are exemplary here because their infrastructure plans also identify funding beyond the forward estimates. This can assist in encouraging investor confidence and increasing the likelihood of delivery.

The Queensland Government’s approach is a case in point and should be commended as it may lead to a more mature public discussion of indicative processes for investigating infrastructure needs. While it is difficult for governments to go public with long term indicative commitments to infrastructure needs, it is important that they do so.

International gateways…not

Some planning systems in Australia were found to be generally poor at integrating planning for international gateways and intermodal connections into broader metropolitan planning. This is most acute for ports and freight planning, where large growth in the volume of freight through Australia’s major ports is forecast.

A big picture with gaps makes it hard to see ….the big picture

No planning system in Australia wholly addressed all nationally significant policy issues. Most governments were found partially or largely consistent with this criterion. Generally the larger, better-resourced governments, with more established planning systems showed stronger policy capabilities than smaller ones.

This is one of the reasons why the council has recommended continued intergovernmental collaboration on cities to build up the evidence and information for planning so that all governments have access to resources that will allow them to address these nationally significant issues.

Affordable housing …could it be that politics figures larger than logic?

While housing affordability is arguably one of the most salient issues facing all Australian capital cities, a comprehensive and coherent response to the issue was found wanting across most planning systems.

In particular, it was not always clear why governments were pursuing particular actions to address housing affordability in light of the analysis provided. This suggests a stronger evidence-base is required to interrogate the various options available to government in addressing housing affordability.

Recommendations of the review are:

Recommendation 1

The COAG Reform Council notes that all governments have put significant work into this project and responded to it in a constructive and collaborative way, and recommends that COAG:

Continue with intergovernmental collaboration on the strategic planning of Australian capital cities– working together, sharing information and expertise, and supporting ongoing research on cities.

Recommendation 2

The COAG Reform Council recommends that COAG note that none of the capital city strategic planning systems were found to be wholly consistent with the agreed criteria – but a number of governments have put real effort into improving their systems over the course of this process.

COAG should encourage governments to continue to focus their efforts on improved integration – complementary and consistent planning and delivery across relevant parts of government, especially transport, economic development and land use, including: integration within governments, including the commonwealth as well as state and territory, and local government’s integration between governments, based on continued collaboration.

Recommendation 3

The COAG Reform Council recommends that COAG note that the agreed criteria for capital city strategic planning systems are necessary but not sufficient to deliver on its objective of globally competitive, productive, sustainable, liveable and socially inclusive cities that are well placed to meet future challenges and growth.

COAG should focus continuous improvement efforts on outcomes in cities, including through:

collaboration by governments to improve information and data about Australian cities

commitment to evidence-based policy interventions in cities

clear frameworks for measuring progress and monitoring implementation of strategic planning in cities.

Recommendation 4

The COAG Reform Council recommends that all governments commit to ongoing engagement with communities, business and all stakeholders in setting, implementing and review

Recommendation 5

The COAG Reform Council recommends that COAG encourage governments to actively consider ways to improve the effectiveness of the frameworks for investment and innovation in capital cities, including by:

enhancing the understanding of the urban and land economics of capital cities, considering the cumulative impact of the planning, regulatory and taxation arrangements that apply to housing, jobs and infrastructure in capital cities.

Recommendation 6

The COAG Reform Council recommends that COAG note the best practice highlights of consistency against the agreed criteria.