Lucy Turnbull, left, and Monica Barone

6 December 2011 – Without clear guidelines liability for future climate change impacts may be unintentionally placed on the designer or planner of a project, a report on Australia’s major cities by Consult Australia has warned.

The report, Tomorrow’s Cities Today, launched in Sydney on Tuesday, says increasing levels of liability and ambiguity will push engineers, designers and architects to over-compensate and therefore over-design for protection against this  – increasing the costs of their services and project construction costs.

A group of about 50 guests attended the launch event at Sky Venue and heard panel speakers former Sydney Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull, City of Sydney chief executive Monica Barone and Major Cities Unit executive director Dorte Ekelund.

The report recommends continued collaboration between the private sector, the scientific community and government to establish a policy framework and parameters on which to base industry standards for consulting in the built and natural environment.

It  calls for ambitious reform of major cities with recommendations including a creation of greater green skills through the education system, in partnership with industry, universities and the vocational education and training sector.

And a price on pollution that accounts for the needs of smaller businesses and emissions intensive trade exposed industries.

Consult Australia chief executive officer Megan Motto said Tomorrow’s Cities Today takes a holistic approach to achieving productivity, sustainability, liveability and good governance, combining new and existing recommendations to provide a framework for national leadership.

“As we grapple with the challenges of climate change, an ageing and growing population, congestion, urban sprawl and unaffordable housing, it’s critical that priorities are set and real action takes place,” she said.

“Given the links between well functioning cities and productivity, a long-term, bi-partisan commitment across all levels of government to a policy that priorities better urban centres is critical to Australia’s development.”

Planning infrastructure to meet the objectives of a sustainable future would prioritise solutions that: improve connectivity, reduce emissions, minimise energy, waste generation and water use, the report says.

Infrastructure itself should be built with regard to more sustainable social, environmental and economic criteria, for example through sustainable procurement decisions, recycled material selection, improved energy efficiency and consideration of alternative water supplies.

A nationally consistent adaptation plan needed to be developed, and retained  across political cycles, to protect Australia against the threat of damage from climate change, and to help it manage other demographic and economic changes already forecast (for example, population, ageing).

Other major recommendations

  • The government lead the establishment of a public Infrastructure Investment strategy to provide cost-benefit analyses to determine the merits of significant (possibly debt leveraged) government investment in infrastructure projects.
  • Green depreciation. Businesses that retrofit certain commercial buildings to significantly improve energy efficiency are able to apply for a one off bonus tax deduction.
  • Governments must commit to undertaking pilot studies of new road pricing mechanisms including road-user charges.
  • Governments at all levels prioritise and plan for the delivery of sustainable, liveable, higher density residential development in  cities alongside essential economic infrastructure
  • The government develop a national spatial plan to provide a framework for urban policy, infrastructure delivery and population distribution.
  • increased benefits for mobility, access and social inclusion created by increased public and active
  • Transport options for disadvantaged populations need to be accounted for in project evaluations and cost-benefit analyses informing infrastructure development.
  • More age-friendly built environments, including consideration of retirement

living, ageing in place, health-care, mobility and options for affordable living.

  • Creation of a ministerial portfolio for cities and urban development, alongside local government and regional development to deliver integrated building, precinct and city policy and programs, supported by appropriately resourced agencies and departments.
  • Council of Australian Governments agree that all states will have in place; in the near term, plans that meet the criteria for the future strategic planning of all cities with populations over 100,000 people or populations likely to achieve 100,000 by 2050, and that the Commonwealth will link future infrastructure funding decisions in those cities to meeting these criteria.
  • A Productivity Commission review of the benefits of a Sovereign Wealth Fund for Australia as a mechanism to boost productivity and meet future demands for funding arising from forecast climate and demographic change.
  • Position Australia as a centre of excellence in urban and city development:

The release of Tomorrow’s Cities Today coincides with COAG Reform Council’s consideration of capital city strategic planning systems.

The uncommissioned report was developed through consultation with leading specialists from some of Australia’s top consulting firms in engineering, design, planning and project development including GHD, AECOM, Worley Parsons, SMEC Australia, URS and Norman, Disney & Young.

See report