Australian governments must urgently protect infrastructure corridors if they are going to cost-effectively plan for an extra 16.7 million people over the next 50 years, Infrastructure Australia has warned – and there’s little disagreement from industry.

Moving quickly to protect corridors for national priority infrastructure projects could avoid $11 billion in land purchase and construction costs, the country’s independent infrastructure advisor revealed in its latest report into reform, Corridor Protection: Planning and investing for the long term.

Most of the projects are rail, included the long-discussed East Coast high speed rail, Western Sydney airport line, and freight lines for Western Sydney, Hunter Valley and the Port of Brisbane.

Land for outer ring roads for Sydney and Melbourne make up the remaining strategic priorities.

The paper looks at three scenarios: do not protect and acquire land at construction; protect and acquire now; and do not protect and tunnel in future, finding that the protection and acquisition strategy would be the most cost-effective option for all projects.

“Even taking a conservative approach, the modelling finds that, under the ‘protect and acquire now’ scenario, governments could save up to $10.8 billion ($2016, at a seven per cent real discount rate) in the cost of developing the seven projects, compared to the ‘do not protect’ scenarios,” the report said.

And while Australia in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s had a strong track record of protecting corridors for infrastructure projects, today, protection is the exception, not the rule, the report said.

Infrastructure Australian chairman Mark Birrell said governments had an immediate opportunity to deliver “an enduring infrastructure legacy to future generations”.

“If we protect infrastructure corridors we will reduce project costs and especially minimise the need for underground tunnelling, where the cost to government and therefore taxpayers can be up to 10 times higher than it would have been,” he said.

The report also pointed to a necessity to protect underground corridors in established areas for projects such as metro systems, with building services like underground parking and loading docks potentially interfering with such systems.

East Coast high speed rail is number one priority

The East Coast high speed rail was labelled the most urgent of all corridors needing protection.

“This critical corridor faces immediate pressure due to its proximity to major population centres and should be a key focus for NSW, Victorian and federal governments,” Mr Birrell said.

“That is why Infrastructure Australia is recommending that a national framework for corridor protection be put in place to guide coordinated and meaningful action by all levels of government.”

The framework would guide governments to:

  • prepare agreed, robust plans
  • prepare feasibility studies on the corridors arising from those plans
  • establish joint funding and governance arrangements to protect and capture the value in those corridors

Industry celebrates call

The Property Council and Consult Australia congratulated Infrastructure Australia for the call to action.

“This important report exemplifies the value an independent infrastructure adviser brings to Australia,” Consult Australia chief executive Megan Motto said.

“It is a strategic consideration of growth, emphasising the importance of long-term vision, in a time of real change.”

The Property Council said the report had been well-received by both sides of politics.

“This is a compelling report that demonstrates how long-term planning can provide substantial savings to taxpayers in the decades ahead,” PCA chief of policy and housing Glenn Byres said.

“Our corridors anticipate the long-term transport and infrastructure needs of the nation and ensures that we can meet them by planning now.”

He said an example of planning for the future was Sydney’s Badgerys Creek airport, which was “only a viable infrastructure project today because of land decisions made by governments a generation ago”.

“The projects identified in the report will be crucial to building the cities of future generations.”