Dr Janet Stanley speaking at the launch of the 20-minute cities report.

Leading transport and planning industry associations and the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors have issued a united call for the federal government to immediately release the State of Australian Cities 2014 report. Sources in the planning sector told The Fifth Estate late last year the report had been prepared, but that “the minister is sitting on it”.

The CCCLM, along with the Bus Industry Confederation, the Real Estate Institute of Australia, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, the Australasian Railways Association and the Cycling Promotion Fund issued the challenge to the government during this week’s Canberra launch of a new BIC policy framework for an integrated approach to transport planning.

Moving people: Connecting Neighbourhoods – the 20-Minute City sets out the planning issues compromising the long-term sustainability of our cities and maps a framework for using active transport and public transport policy to deliver better communities.

The report was authored by adjunct professor John Stanley from the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies; Dr Janet Stanley, social policy adviser for Stanley & Co; and Stephen Davis, industry development and planning manager for BusVic.

“The 20 minute neighbourhood isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel, it is about making the existing urban form in our cities more diverse and liveable by bringing good transport choices and economic opportunity to what is already in place,” Professor Stanley said.

The policy launch was attended by representatives from some of the industry associations and tripartite federal representatives including the ALP’s shadow minister for cities, Anthony Albanese; Sam Drummond, advisor for Victorian Greens senator Janet Rice; and National Party MP and parliamentary secretary for finance Michael McCormack on behalf of infrastructure minister Warren Truss.

“The Lord Mayors of Australia’s capital cities welcome the timely and constructive contribution BIC’s Connecting Neighbourhoods: The ‘20 minute city’ policy paper makes towards a national discussion on urban Australia,” Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese, chair of the Council of Capital City Lord Mayors said.

“With almost nine in 10 Australians living in urban Australia, and 80 per cent of all goods and services produced in cities, our future as a strong, secure and sustainable country will largely be determined by the quality of our cities.

“While Australia’s cities rank highly globally for being liveable, let’s not be complacent, we can and should strive to do more to lock in future prosperity and share the benefits across the community.”

Executive director of the BIC Michael Apps said that the nation’s prosperity was being seriously damaged because urban sprawl and traffic congestion are making our cities unmanageable in terms of costs to the government and cost of living for families.

The federal government should be a “leader not a follower when it comes to our cities”, Mr Apps said, adding that funding and building urban roads was only part of the solution to building the globally competitive cities of the future.

He said analysis showed congestion cost the national economy more than $13 billion in 2014, a figure that will rise to $20 billion by 2020 if policy does not redress the core issues.

A recent study estimated that urban sprawl costs the US economy more than US$1 trillion annually. “We know that urban sprawl costs Australian governments – federal, state and local – billions in additional infrastructure, service provision costs and productivity losses as a result of congestion,” Mr Apps said.

“At a time when bringing down costs to government and increasing revenue is a major focus at a federal level it’s a no brainer for the federal government to play a role in how we manage the growth of our cities.”

The solution was how we  connect our neighbourhoods, long term planning and the right choices for transport infrastructure and travel choices, he said.

The policy paper outlines a new governance process, a council of Australian governments that would bring together all three tiers of government in a collaborative arrangement to deliver better, more integrated planning outcomes.

Adelaide Lord Mayor Martin Haese said the CCCLM welcomed the opportunity to work with the other levels of government.

“Prosperous, liveable cities don’t happen by accident. Robust planning and coordinated, upfront investment in infrastructure, especially transport, is needed by all three tiers of government,” he said.

“Ultimately, our cities are comprised of many neighbourhoods; providing well integrated land use and transport planning at the local level is important to building strong global cities. Enabling people to access most of their daily activities mostly within a 20 minute walk, cycle or public transport trip is an excellent target to strive for to focus collective government effort.”

In addition to asking for the State of Australian Cities report due in December last year to finally be released, the groups urge the federal government to make a stronger commitment to enacting the agreed COAG Capital City Planning Criteria, with direct links between federal government funding and the delivery of long term capital and major city strategic plans.

They are also asking that the federal government commits to Infrastructure Australia being able to assess and approve funding for public transport and urban renewal projects submitted by state governments, and for a review of the $100 million threshold for projects to allow whole of transport network solutions and urban renewal projects to be eligible for funding from Infrastructure Australia.

In addition, they want all federal government urban road infrastructure funding to be tied to a requirement to include walking and cycling infrastructure, bus priority, bus rapid transit solutions and integration into the existing public transport network where practical.

Dorte Eklund, former head of the now-disbanded Major Cities Unit that prepared the previous State of Australian Cities reports between 2010 and 2013, told The Fifth Estate it is “heartening” groups like the Capital City Lord Mayors continue to push the cities agenda.

“One of the things we were able to do in the Major Cities Unit was shine a light on the challenges and opportunities for our cities. It is heartening to see a lot of our stakeholders continue to do so,” Ms Eklund said.

“The state and territory governments continue the dialogue on how we need public transport, and urban density, and a balance between green space and the built environment. The Capital City Lord Mayors work at international level through the C40, and are trying to put into place policies around sustainability.

“I think work is progressing despite their not being a federal policy. Cities provide opportunities for solutions [as well as problems], and there is such a groundswell of comprehension about the challenges.”

On the progress of Australian regions

The missing-in-action State of Australian Cities 2014 report has a twin document, the Progress in Australian Regions Yearbook 2014, which was released by the department of regional development and infrastructure at the end of last year. An industry source commented that the yearbook is simply a statistical document that presents data with the policy overlay removed. It’s a snapshot – not a direction, the source said.

The data does not go deeply in terms of the sustainability of the cities and regions.  It is instead focused on topics the Australian Bureau of Statistics identified through survey as being of “significant” importance to the population.

The report shows the importance of a better approach to transport planning, with greenhouse emissions from road transport increasing in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. The combined net increase amounted to 5,138,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent from a base of 40,682,000 tonnes.

Transport emissions had remained fairly steady in Hobart, Canberra and Darwin, and had decreased slightly in Adelaide.

The other data sets presented in the report’s environment section are air pollution, domestic trips involving nature activities, and the extent of protected areas of land. The air pollution data showed that in all the capital cities and many regions there were air pollution levels recorded that exceeded the EPA’s thresholds for particulate matter at least once within a twelve month period.

The Healthy Built Environments section contains subjective data based on collected ABS surveys of people’s perceptions of traffic congestion and satisfaction with water quality, and objective data on average commuting times and active travel usage.

“The proportion of residents who feel that their city has a good road network and minimal traffic congestion is considered a measure of progress for the health of our built environment because as our cities grow, congestion threatens to have an impact upon the well-being and health of many city dwellers. Increasing levels of satisfaction with road networks and congestion are associated with other benefits for residents, such as reduced pollution, reduced time lost sitting in traffic and reduced feelings of stress,” the report stated.

“Across Australia, average commuting times were higher in capital cities compared with the areas outside the capital cities in the same state or territory. The largest difference was between Sydney and the other areas of New South Wales, where average commuting times in the capital were 12.9 minutes longer in 2010.”

The data showed that areas of WA outside Perth, Greater Melbourne and the Northern territory had the smallest increases in average commuting times in the years between 2002 and 2010, and that the ACT, Greater Brisbane and the non-capital areas of SA had the largest increases in commute times during the same period.

In terms of active travel, the data shows that walking has been on the decline across all cities and regions, with a significant drop of 2.5 per cent between 2009 and 2012 in the number of Australians using walking for non-work transport.

“The planning and design of built environments affects the rates of walking and cycling for transport. Specific features of neighbourhoods, towns and cities, such as road networks, footpaths, cycleways, quality open space, density and land use mix that offers good accessibility to a range of goods and services, are associated with an increased rate of walking and cycling for transport,” the report stated.

Download the full Progress in Australian Regions 2014 Yearbook report here