MP John Alexander flagged some ambitious goals for cities and nation-wide planning when he addressed The Fifth Estate’s Tomorrowland 2018 just two weeks ago on 6 September and he was optimistic.

Now we know why. The Building Up & Moving Out report released on Monday by the committee that he chaired has endorsed a great wish list of ideas for Canberra to embrace. Among them are high-speed rail, creating high-value jobs in regional areas, expanding energy performance disclosure requirements for commercial buildings, and a far more integrated planning approach that supports the transition to a low-emissions economy among them.

The report is the outcome of an inquiry into the development of cities by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities.

Key is that the inquiry pushes for a national plan of settlement, as well as federal interventions to facilitate sustainable urban growth and population growth outside of Sydney and Melbourne.

Releasing the report, Mr Alexander said population growth, urbanisation, the ageing of the population, and the transformation of the economy towards service and knowledge-based industries are causing profound changes in Australia’s urban and regional landscapes.

“These are big challenges, and they require a new understanding of our cities and their relationship with surrounding regions,” he said.

“Managing these challenges requires a national vision – a national plan of settlement.”

The committee also recommended the creation of a Minister for Cities and National Settlement to oversee the national plan of settlement and housing, and a National Chief Planner, to provide independent expert advice on urban and regional planning and development.

The inquiry drew on submissions and evidence from peak bodies and researchers in built environment sustainability, including the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), the Green Building Council of Australia, Consult Australia, Engineers Australia and the Smart Cities Council.

Recommendations for sustainable buildings

In the section of the report examining the sustainability of buildings, the committee recommended that the federal government consider lowering the threshold of the Commercial Buildings Disclosure program for commercial office buildings to 500 square metres for base building performance.

It also said the government should investigate the feasibility of mandating disclosure of the energy performance of tenanted areas of 1000 square metres or greater (not just the base building).

The recommendations for residential building performance, however, are not so progressive.

While the report acknowledged submissions from experts including ASBEC, CSIRO and others around the advantages of increasing the energy efficiency standards under the National Construction Code and introducing mandatory disclosure, the committee did not recommend any increase in stringency on the NCC. It did, however, suggest instigating something similar to the CBD scheme.

“The committee heard from witnesses that a lack of market incentive for sustainability measures means that residential buildings are largely being built according to NCC minimum performance standards,” the report said.

“It also received evidence that the construction industry is struggling to demonstrate compliance with these standards. As such, the committee does not consider it prudent to raise the minimum performance standards contained in the NCC at this time, although it would like to see this in future.

“Rather, the committee believes the market should be incentivised to implement sustainability measures beyond the standards of the NCC, through the introduction of a building rating and disclosure scheme, similar to the CBD program.”

The value of rating tools, specifically the GBCA’s Green Star rating tools, was recognised. The report suggested the government promote the broader adoption of Green Star be making it a requirement in the delivery of publicly-funded built assets and in masterplanning.

Tomorrowland 2018
MP John Alexander; Iain Walker, newDemocracy at Tomorrowland 2018

Better public transport remains key

The report repeatedly stressed the importance of the federal government engaging with public transport planning and provision, including high speed rail to connect regional areas and the major capital cities, and urban mass transit in the form of heavy rail, light rail, bus networks, car sharing and autonomous vehicles.

Active travel was also highlighted, both within the context of developing liveable and sustainable “30 minute cit[ies]”, and from the perspective of public health benefits.

Climate change finally gets a mention

Climate change, which has been missing in action in concrete policy terms lately, was repeatedly addressed. .

Climate change was mentioned in the context of transitioning to a lower carbon energy system, building quality, planning for green space and open space, and water resources planning and management, among other topics.

Regional development gets the nod

The report recognises the role of universities and health facilities in creating knowledge economy jobs and other high value roles that would stimulate growth in regional cities and regional centres.

Greater connectivity was recognised as key to taking the pressure off Sydney and Melbourne by enabling population growth in the regions.

“Well connected cities and regions means that opportunities can be distributed across a wider population,” the report said.

“High speed rail can bring distant communities within close proximity of each other. Access to employment, education, services and recreation would increase. Where someone lived would not predetermine access to opportunities. This in turn would enable a more dispersed pattern of settlement as new population centres would still have access to employment and services.”

The report suggested expanding the government’s City Deals program to include “Regional Deals”. It also recommended that the government highlight the economic and lifestyle advantages of regional communities, while allowing those regions to retain and cultivate their unique regional identities.

An index of living costs by regions

The committee recommended the federal government develop and publish and index of the cost of housing, cost of living and wages in local communities, “thereby giving people a direct comparison of their income and costs by locality”.

“This index could do a great deal, in conjunction with better regional connectivity, to promote the benefits of living outside the major cities.”

All up, the inquiry made 37 key recommendation that also included:

  • Developing integrated master plans for states and territories, regions and communities
  • Appointing a COAG Cities & Regional Development Ministerial Council involving representation by state and territory treasurers, housing ministers and planning ministers, and local government
  • Appointing a Cities & Regional Development NGO Roundtable to ensure business and community groups have a direct voice to government on issues involving cities and regions
  • Pursuing a system of urban planning which promotes: accessibility and liveability, promoting health and quality of life, economic, social and environmental sustainability, high quality natural and built environments, access to employment, a more compact urban form, and, the concept of the 30-minute city
  • Developing a framework for the development of cities and regions outside the major metropolitan centres
  • That the federal government, in partnership with the states and territories, establish nationally consistent measurable targets to reduce waste to landfill, incorporate waste indicators into the National Cities Performance Framework, and establish a grant program to offer once-off financial support to catalyse new businesses focused on waste recycling or use
  • That the Australian government work with the states and territories to establish nationally consistent guidelines for urban green space and a clear trajectory to continued carbon emissions reductions
  • Develop a national freight network which prioritises the movement of freight by rail
  • Promote affordable housing, including the appointment of a senior minister with responsibility for housing, including identifying and strategically developing Commonwealth land holdings to address housing affordability, and investigate the viability of nationalising and streamlining planning regulation similar to the Australian Building Codes Board model
  • Expand the performance indicators and cities assessed under the National Cities Performance Framework, including enhancing indicators for environmental sustainability and innovation; and incorporating smaller regional capitals into the framework
  • Establish a national institute for cities research
  • Re-endorse the Creating Places for People: An Urban Design Protocol for Australian Cities and provide financial support for the purposes of maintaining and promoting these design principles
  • Improve infrastructure project appraisal and procurement, taking a lifecycle approach to assessing economic, environmental and social costs and benefits, and consider infrastructure projects in integration with other land-use and population planning measures
  • Develop a system of value capture as an organising principle of infrastructure planning and procurement

Now all that’s needed is the political will to bring the wishlist into the realm of action.

Download Building Up & Moving Out report

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