Jennifer Westacott

30 July 2014 — Head of the Business Council of Australia Jennifer Westacott is calling for Australia to adopt a “cities agenda”, in stark contrast to the federal government, which has dismantled measures to assist city development on a national scale including axing the Major Cities Unit.

Ms Westacott, who will give tonight’s [Wednesday’s] UNSW Faculty of Built Environment Utzon lecture, said that in a decade just 600 cities will be responsible for two-thirds of world economic growth and 200 of them will be in China.

“Two hundred Chinese cities will be responsible for an estimated 30 per cent of global economic growth,” she said.

“Instead of Australian cities competing with each other, we need to think about competing with Singapore, with Chengdu, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Dallas, and the policy settings that will allow us to do this.”

She said both Sydney and Melbourne needed to start planning for projected populations of eight million by 2050. Key to this was rethinking the spatial dynamic of cities from suburbs and cities to corridors and hubs.

Ms Westacott said the BCA would advocate for a more cohesive policy approach to city planning.

“While I am not advocating a central planning approach for Australia, I am saying that accidentally becoming a city of eight million people will lead to very poor outcomes indeed,” she said.

“Unless we adopt a more purposeful approach to the planning, design and governance of our cities, the community will continue to push back on the entire concept of population growth.”

She cited Sydney’s North West Corridor as a good example of a corridor and hub style approach, with 50 per cent of NSW’s gross state product now concentrated in this economic corridor.

With globalisation, technology and demographic shifts already affecting cities, Ms Westacott said it was important to be flexible and plan for different concepts of what makes a city.

“The key to getting cities right is in their design,” she said.

In her lecture, Ms Westacott will also cover reform of state planning systems, a national population strategy, the outcome-focused metropolitan strategies, and new ways to fund and finance public infrastructure.

The lecture will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A led by director of the UNSW City Futures Research Centre Professor Bill Randolph, with panellists including chief executive and managing director of Mirvac Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz and Telstra group executive, global enterprise and services Brendon Riley.

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  1. Having attended this timely presentation, which was recorded and should in due course be found at, one couldn’t help but feel a gross disconnect in the way we deal with our cities here in Australia. A disconnect which is yet still to be tackled head-on.

    On the one hand we had these three dynamic speakers, one with public and corporate expertise, the other two from distinct commercial sectors, talking positively, enthusiastically about the potential energies – economic, social and environmental – locked up in our growing urban areas and waiting to be unleashed. OK, some of their comments may be born from a realisation that it is all a bit of an urbanisation population growth roller-coaster too heavy for us to stop and so let’s make the most of it. But I got the impression it was more than that and far more positive. A realisation of the potential synergies embedded within the individual aspirations that make up the growing population itself; the harnessing of the “disruptive technologies” of the digital era that Brendon Riley from Telstra talked about; and the “collaborative consumption” possibilities that Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz flagged (like “bill-free” dwellings generating their own power and re-used water, and shared-household dwellings with common living and kitchen facilities).

    And then on the other hand we have a curl-up-in-a-ball let’s hope the problem goes away, or the let’s not deal with it until we really have to approaches. Westacott referred to north-west Sydney. It’s contribution to the economy is huge. But it was largely created within a no-plan vacuum in a typical 1980s and 90s “edge-city” way, with planning and governance now playing costly catch-up that never seems to quite capture full potentials. So we have old-fashioned suburban-style land releases that just chew up valuable farmland for housing, a new motorway (code for tollway) and then another, and yes a bus transit-way but finally almost too late a railway with limited connection back into the main system. Even the metaphor given to this area – “the global arc” – was an after-the-event thing, with its own perverse outcome. As other regions in Sydney now point out, if you do not happen to be located within this geographic-specific planning metaphor you do not seem to exist in the planning and resources allocation stakes. One can also detect this difficulty-with-urbanism frame of mind in many of the responses to Peter Newman’s 10 myths about density piece in this Journal recently.

    We need to address this disconnect – in both our broad thinking and in our specific planning. Westacott spoke of three things we need to address, which could become the three pillars of a more successful urban experience in Australia – a realisation of the connection between city-design and economic well-being, a design ethos centred on liveability, and governance and resource allocation structures that assist.
    Curiously there was no explicit reference to the environmental imperative from this very influential lobby group. Let’s hope it is implicit within each of these three pillars. Because, one could also ask: how do we design our growing cities so that we can contain their physical footprint. Why do we still continue to build on fertile and moist soils on the city edges when we are also told that some of our economic future lies in feeding the world? And how can we contain our ecological footprint. Why do we not see our cities as closed-loop powerhouses generating their energy needs from the heat and wastes they inherently produce? And how can we do this culturally in a way that suits us without resorting to taking our cues from those (usually Asian) cities we are told we must compete with. As architect Philip Cox pointed out in a comment from the floor, Singapore and the cities of China are very much a product of not just personal enterprise but also centralist structures we just do not have here. What can and should be Australia’s new urban sensibility?

  2. I would rather have it centrally regulated rather then leave it to the whims state politics and developers.

    I would want the central authority populated with professional that have a vision for creating vibrant, resilient, and healthy cities that are for people and of a human scale. I would not want a politician or developer seen within cooey of it. I want proper considered planning that is looking toward the next 100 years not the election cycle.