Malcolm Turnbull announces his Smart City Plan at Oran Park

The Turnbull government has announced it will create an investment fund to speed up the delivery of renewables, energy efficiency and smart technology in cities. The fund, however, has been criticised by renewable energy advocates for taking funding already existing with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

According to the government, the Sustainable Cities Investment Fund will be available to projects that demonstrate a financial return for taxpayers, and will have an annual investment target of up to $100 million a year.

During a press conference at Oran Park, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the fund was available for “sustainable urban infrastructure”, which could include such things as lighting upgrades, traffic management technology and better water management.

It will be accompanied by a $50 million local government Smart Cities Program [has the government finally abandoned the Abbott government programme penchant?], a grants program that will enable “innovative technology-based approaches to improve the liveability of cities and their suburbs”.

“That’s really designed to encourage [councils] to open up their data, to use technology more creatively, to better engage with their residents and ratepayers to enable them to better access the information council has and the services council provides,” Mr Turnbull said.

Assistant minister for cities Angus Taylor said the funding would enable carbon cuts at the lowest cost.

“Whether it is renewable energy precincts within our cities, whether it is more efficient, energy-efficient transport systems or more energy-efficient buildings, we know some of the lowest costs and best ways to reduce emissions are embedded in our cities and the way we build them,” he said.

A city deal for Western Sydney

The government also announced it would enter into a “City Deal” with Western Sydney, coordinated and overseen by a ministerial council with state, federal and local representation, which would work to develop a vision for Western Sydney and create goals, actions and investments to get there.

Mr Turnbull promised it would lead to more affordable housing, jobs closer to homes and better transport, including a planned rail link.

The Western Sydney Airport has been nominated as the centrepiece of the vision.

“The airport is going to create tens of thousands of jobs, well over 30,000 jobs,” Mr Turnbull said. “There is need for nearly 200,000 new dwellings and a similar number of jobs in Western Sydney. That is going to require coordinated planning. The City Deal is a key part of that.”

Mixed reactions

The built environment and property industry welcomed the announcements.

Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said she was particularly pleased funds would be invested in a range of projects “including green building, retrofit projects and precinct-scale energy generation systems”.

“We have long called for extra investment and incentives to encourage building upgrades and retrofits,” she said. “This is a good start.”

Ms Madew said “transparency and accountability” would be key to the projects.

The Property Council applauded the City Deal for Western Sydney.

“This is a good day for Western Sydney – because both sides have put forward their plans to drive economic growth in Western Sydney,” NSW executive director Jane Fitzgerald said.

“Both sides recognise that the building of a second airport in Sydney offers an opportunity to make Western Sydney the economic hub of Sydney.”

The plan was attacked by renewable energy advocates, however, for what they see as the transformation of the CEFC into a “political pork barrel”. This take comes in light of cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which the government has changed into a fund-making body using $1 billion of the CEFC’s $10 billion pool. Another billion was promised to a Great Barrier Reef protection fund. And now $100 million a year is going to fund the Sustainable Cities Investment Fund election promise.

“Here we are again, pulling money from an important institution to meet a short term political objective,” Solar Citizens national director Clare O’Rourke said.

“This is another politically driven, piecemeal policy that sees us yet again responding to a political need rather than building a decent plan for our future energy needs.”

Ms O’Rourke said she wondered how the CEFC board and management felt “as they watch their investment mandate being pulled apart with these announcements”.