12 December 2010 – A raft of built environment organisations, professionals, academics and corporations has signed an open letter to call for bi-partisan support for urban policy, in the hope that political rivalries will not kill off the first signs of emerging national urban agenda in decades.

The coalition of signatories is also concerned at the oversimplification of planning issues into a case of greenfield development versus infill.

The federal government this month released Our Cities – building a productive, sustainable and liveable future discussion paper – in a huge step towards the importance of national framework for cities not seen since the 1970s.

The irony is the timing. The federal Labour Government could soon face its political opponents in all the major states; WA and Victoria are already Coalition states and NSW and Queensland could soon follow.

The prospect has alarmed built environment professionals at a time of increasing politicisation of the planning processes across the nation.

  • See our article on the political fracturing of urban planning issues, and an article by leading planning Marcus Spiller on the need for a new governance model for urban planning, a separate article by Marcus Spiller and Griffith University’s Brendan Gleeson and Jago Dodson on similar issues.

Almost the first thing the incoming Victorian government did when it came to power in the closing days of November was to say it would rewrite the urban planning framework.

The Green Building Council of Australia on Friday said the open letter published in The Australian calls for a bi-partisan approach to urban policy across all tiers of government.

Signatories include Australian Institute of Architects, Consult Australia, the Planning Institute of Australia, and the Property Council of Australia – all partners in Built Environment Meets Parliament yearly forum in Canberra.

Others include: the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects; Council of Capital City Lord Mayors; the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council; Woodhead; Woods Bagot; The University of South Australia; University of Melbourne; QUT; RMIT; University of Tasmania; Timothy Horton, South Australian Commissioner for Integrated Design; Professor Richard Weller from the University of Western Australia; Emeritus Professor Catherin Bull AM; Adjunct Professor John Stanley from the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies; Professor Mike Young, executive director, The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide; Dr Sam Ridgway, Acting Head, School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design; The University of Adelaide; Urban Design Forum; University of Technology Sydney; Landscape Architects Australia and Architecture Australia.

Planning Institute of Australia
PIA president Neil Savery said the critical issues of urban design and development have recently been political playthings with media fuelling the fire.

“How our cities grow and develop for the benefit of future communities is at the heart of this stance,” Mr Savery said.

“Planning industry stakeholders are standing as one on this. The complexities involved in designing and planning cities are generally ignored for the sake of an argument over urban sprawl verses higher density.

“It’s time the planning case was made clear and that’s why a number of high profile bodies have come together with one clear voice.

“The proper development of our cities means the consideration of social, economic, environmental and other issues. The conversation on urban sprawl verses higher density can’t be black and white. It’s not right to simplify the issue to say one is better than the other.

“Careful planning and good design applied to higher density or greenfield development can enhance quality of life for future communities, revitalise city precincts, drive renewed prosperity and embrace new technologies.”

Mr Savery said along with urban planners & designers worldwide, all organisations that signed the open letter support the view that Australia needs to embrace higher density.

“In certain well defined areas a more compact urban form can deliver positive cultural, environmental and economic outcomes.

“Where it’s necessary to develop land on the edges of existing regional centres we have a special obligation to ensure it’s done in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

“It’s not a matter of debating one against the other. We believe the future of our cities requires a new non-partisan approach to urban policy across all tiers of government to achieve genuinely liveable, sustainable cities.

“A rapidly growing population worldwide means we face enormous creative challenges in providing communities that have the capacity to satisfy various lifestyles. Rejecting higher density out of hand is no longer an option for Australia.”

Green Building Council of Australia
GBCA chief executive and chair of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council’s Cities Taskgroup Romilly Madew said Australia’s cities were confronted by significant long-term challenges.

“Population growth, transport congestion and housing affordability – three issues affecting everyday Australians – will be felt most severely in our major cities, which will accommodate around 85 per cent of our 36 million plus population by 2050,” Ms Madew said.

“These challenges will only be addressed successfully through a nationally- consistent approach.

“We have made this statement to stimulate further public conversation around the future of Australia’s cities. It’s important that we avoid polarising discussion about the future of our cities into a debate about whether we go ‘up’ or ‘out’ – in other words arguing about the merits of urban infill versus greenfield development.

“Just last week, the Australian Government released the Our Cities – building a productive, sustainable and liveable future discussion paper to frame the policy approach to cities as the basis for a national urban policy.

“This is an important step towards an integrated, co-ordinated and nationally-consistent approach to urban policy.”

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au