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Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities
Australian government's role in the development of cities

SPIELMAN, Ms Ruth, Executive Officer, National Growth Areas Alliance


CHAIR: I now welcome the representative of the National Growth Areas Alliance to give evidence today. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and, therefore, has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. The giving of false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. The evidence given today will be recorded by Hansard and attracts parliamentary privilege. I now invite you to make an opening statement before we proceed to discussion.

Ms Spielman : Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you very much for inviting us to be heard today. The National Growth Areas Alliance is a group of councils on the outskirts of cities around Australia where population is growing at around double the national rate. There are about 5 million people living in those areas nationally. In my opening statement I would like to start by making five key points. The fast-growing outer suburbs play a significant role in our cities, which is not well recognised and, in particular, through the provision of housing as well as labour for people who are travelling into the city and elsewhere.

Secondly, policies and investment are not keeping pace with the population growth, much of which is settling in these areas, and so there is a disproportionate percentage of people who are settling in the outer growth suburbs. The uneven distribution of infrastructure has perpetuated inequality around our cities, and the reliance on CBDs is no longer sustainable. When our cities were smaller it was more sustainable for people to be able to get in and out of city centres, but it is not that way now and so we need to look towards a different pattern than one hub and lots of spokes. The fast-growing outer suburbs are in transition and there are some exciting things emerging, but without a coordinated policy focus and dedicated investment we will not overcome the issues that exist, nor benefit from the tremendous opportunities.

To achieve more sustainable and liveable cities we also need more sustainable and liveable outer suburbs. Less requirement for travel, and especially less car travel, is the key to enhancing liveability, quality of life and energy and resource reduction through less time spent on roads, less spent on fuel, less congestion and fewer adverse health impacts.

To achieve this there will need to be a pattern of settlement and associated infrastructure investment to support jobs and services closer to home, better public transport connectivity, improved road networks and broadband connectivity. Education, health, recreation and cultural facilities and services are also critical to enable people and places to realise their potential.

The fast-growing outer suburbs are pulling above their weight when it comes to share of jobs and they are now a major driver of economic and employment growth in Australia. They are in transition, with high-tech jobs growing at a faster rate than the national average, but there are still challenges with population growth continuing to outstrip jobs growth. We need to find ways to address the challenges and nurture the emergence of the positive trends.

Our current mode of allocation of infrastructure goods bears little relationship to the geographic location of population growth. Infrastructure has been shown to be a core factor in determining the level of economic activity in an area, but there is no evident plan that analyses the locations that would most benefit from catalytic infrastructure. Actions that would assist include a policy position on addressing the differential spatial impacts of rapid population growth, planning and investment to support the development of polycentric cities, a more strategic approach to the placement of catalytic infrastructure to open up opportunities where they will make a real difference, and a dedicated national infrastructure fund for the fast-growing outer suburbs to address the backlog and what is needed going forward. Community infrastructure, skills development and jobs also require investment and, lastly, planning, policy and program coordination, such as a national growing outer suburbs taskforce.

Governments need to use all the levers at their disposal from tax incentives to strategic land purchase, infrastructure funding and placement of government offices to help achieve more sustainable, liveable cities. We should not squander the opportunities available in the outer suburbs and we should not minimise their importance to cities and the nation as a whole. We need to stop funding inequality and where there is marginal gain and start funding it where it will make a real difference, that is, population growth hotspots such as fast-growing outer suburbs. If they are sustainable and liveable, the rest of the city is likely to be too.

We have seen that the fast-growing outer suburbs are in transition. This emerging trend requires a coordinated policy focus and investment for it to flourish. Imagine what the fast-growing outer suburbs could become and what they could contribute if they got their fair share of assets. Imagine what our cities would be like without it. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Would it be correct to say that the north-east region of Sydney would be a poster child of your concerns in that it had enormous growth, no infrastructure going in in a timely manner, the highest rate of car ownership and the highest rate of car user anywhere in Australia, as far as I know or I knew at that time, and now, subsequent to this problem developing, there is now a rail line being built? Would that encapsulate the challenges that you are facing?

Ms Spielman : Yes, indeed, absolutely. I think, yes, you have stated it very succinctly.

CHAIR: I was just trying to look this up quickly. 'Polycentric' would mean that a city has many business centres?

Ms Spielman : Yes. Similar to the Greater Sydney Commission idea of a city of cities, if you like—activity hubs.

CHAIR: More of a Paris than a New York?

Ms Spielman : Yes.

CHAIR: We had a presentation some years ago from a town planner that was involved in creating what they called satellite cities within their cities.

Ms Spielman : Yes.

CHAIR: So it was a city of cities. In certain regions of Paris people would live in those regions and not go to a central point, which seemed a better plan.

Ms Spielman : That is right. Enabling people to work within those areas but also connect to those other hubs and into the city centre if need be is the concept to make it more sustainable.

CHAIR: In effect, the further you go out the lower and lower percentage of people would actually be travelling in?

Ms Spielman : Yes.

CHAIR: At the moment, quite the opposite has happened?

Ms Spielman : Yes. People from the outer suburbs are travelling in, but they are also travelling or attempting to travel across. Sometimes that is taking them hours and hours to do, especially for example for younger people. If there is not decent public transport and the sort of job they may have is not the sort of job that would be in the city centre, they have to have a car. That is a dilemma.

CHAIR: This really is the crux of our challenge that we are holding this inquiry about.

Ms BIRD: The perspective that you put on the table is really interesting, because I do not think it negates the densification challenges we have in the CBDs, potentially completely new or massive ramping up of existing cities in regional areas, and then between them this massive pressure point of our outer suburbs. It strikes me, from your submission, that to some extent we are guilty as governments of looking at one and not saying, 'What's the symbiotic relationship between all three, and how does action in one affect the other and what does that tell us in terms of planning?' We do not have very highly densified CBD cities. We have seen evidence to that effect. We have had exactly what you have described. The reality is instead of going up and up and densifying we have been pushing out and out, and it has created all of those pressures.

One of the things that I am really interested in, in terms of what you presented, is the evidence that there is actually jobs growth happening in our outer suburbs. We have had quite a bit of evidence that people are more entry level or sort of a 10-year working pattern, in general, where many people want promotion or they have trained themselves up and want a different type of job. They are then being forced to look into the CBD of cities. You seem to be saying that you could alleviate some of that change by developing these little cities within cities. That is not a new concept and it is probably fair to say its track record has not been highly successful, although there are examples where it has been. What would you see as the key factors for government intervention in making it successful? Are there any examples that you could give us?

Ms Spielman : Thank you for that question. I think it is about all levels of government having a focus on making it work. That is number one, that is, saying, 'We think this is the right way to go, so let's identify the places and then let's work out how we have a focus on that.' The work of the Greater Sydney Commission is on the right track, and the City Deals approach has also got some potential in terms of bringing the different levels of government to focus on an area and say, 'How do we inject what needs to be injected here?' I do not think you can just identify an area on a map, sit back and let it happen. I think that is the failure of the past. What are all the things it will take from public transport, strategic roads, the zoning of land and so forth to make sure that it is providing some attractiveness and incentive for businesses? It is also about governments collectively taking a lead. It might be establishing an office building in a town centre and to then say, 'This is what we are after', so that the private sector can then come in and say, 'That's possible. We can do that.'

One of the pieces of research that we are about to kick off with universities around the country is what we are calling Transformational Projects. We are going to research some that have happened and what it has taken to get those to happen, what the outcomes have been, what some of the potential ones are, and what the models are around the world to support those sorts of things. I am sorry, that is a bit of a longwinded answer.

Ms BIRD: You talk about infrastructure and so forth. One of the persistent things I see in evidence about what transforms a city or a city within a city is education facilities. The classic international examples are where there is a university that is very active in its community. Would you say, in the areas that you cover, you see the lack of or availability of creating difference—and I am sorry, I am looking at the maps—in your own representative council areas?

Ms Spielman : Yes. I think so. There are obviously some university campuses, hospitals, health precincts and so forth, but I agree that those pieces of catalytic infrastructure can make a huge difference, and the value-add of other allied uses locating nearby, the attractiveness to businesses, the research that can go along with that and the jobs and services that can be provided—they are really multifaceted. That is what I was meaning earlier when I was saying that when there is spending on those pieces of infrastructure, whether it be a university or a health precinct or whatever it might be, there needs to be a more strategic approach to where those things are going to make the most difference.

Ms BIRD: Thank you.

Mr WALLACE: What are the geographical boundaries for what you would consider to be an 'outer' suburb?

Ms Spielman : It is those that are on the outskirts of the capital cities as opposed to regional cities. For the most part, they are regarded as being part of capital cities, but they are on the outskirts of those cities. If you give me a state, I could tell you which areas are included.

Mr WALLACE: Correct me if I am wrong, but it is probably a growing feast. I lived in Melbourne 25 years ago. If you lived in Pakenham, for example, you were out in the sticks. Pakenham is now probably an outer suburban area. Would you agree with that?

Ms Spielman : Yes.

Mr WALLACE: Does it not all become very relative?

Ms Spielman : It does. The council areas that are part of our group are those where there has recently been, is currently or is about to happen, a certain percentage of population growth, and they have been designated to accept population growth by the respective state governments. Some of them are a little bit more established than others where they have been more rural and growth is about to land on them, because they have been designated to accept it. There is some diversity within those, but what they have in common is that they are on that fringe of urban and periurban, if you like.

Mr WALLACE: What does that term mean?

Ms Spielman : Periurban?

Mr WALLACE: It is used a lot.

Ms Spielman : People use it in all sorts of different ways, but to my mind it is those areas just beyond capital city boundaries.

Mr WALLACE: Is it your argument that the councils that you represent in your organisation are worse off than councils in regional areas, because at least with the regional areas some have their own albeit poor infrastructure, or are you suggesting that in your outer urban areas you are not metropolitan and you are not regional and just get stuck in the middle where no-one loves you and no-one cares for you?

Ms Spielman : That is right, to some extent. But I would not want to say that it is a competition about who is worse off. I think the regions need and deserve attention. However, the population growth and the backlog of infrastructure that has been required and has not happened for the growing outer suburbs has not got the attention that it deserves. I think your characterisation of saying, 'Yes, we're in the middle', is right. We sometimes talk about it as the forgotten middle child, because those areas have been overlooked.

Mr WALLACE: Middle-child syndrome.

Ms Spielman : There are challenges and there are deficits, but there are also amazing opportunities. We are not saying that we should continue development further and further out. We are saying that those developments are there now and more people—whatever the number is—will come and that there is a real opportunity to be building the suburbs of the future and some of the jobs of the future. If we put our mind to it, we could be creating some amazing places.

Mr WALLACE: My parents live in Patterson Lakes in Victoria. With that whole sort of Frankston, Carrum Downs and even beyond, to Hastings: once those outer urban areas are built up to such an extent, they become their own microcosm. Generally speaking, there is no need for people to travel to go into the city, is there? They sort of feed off themselves.

Ms Spielman : To some extent, but they are still lacking some of the infrastructure, services and jobs that would enable them to realise their potential. There is more potential there than is being realised and they still need connections with CBD and elsewhere. I think, yes, to an extent, but we need to be taking another step in the direction of saying what else could we be doing that would make them even more liveable and sustainable.

Mr WALLACE: That is all I have. Thank you.

CHAIR: That was an interesting point that was just raised. When you arrive at a critical mass or approaching it, there are more and more services and less need to travel to a CBD area. We have had, in my region—to play a little State of Origin—the development of Macquarie Park, which was originally without any housing development. It is all high-tech businesses located in a huge park, with a university and a hospital. Retrospectively, a lot of these office buildings are being taken up for residential development, because the train line goes in there and so that is being eroded. Extraordinarily, the next train stop is Epping, which is a growth precinct where there are all sorts of plans afoot for building high-level buildings over 20 storeys, yet it is all residential and no office space. The opposite sin is being committed, rather than having these balanced, integrated, holistically conceived areas where you can literally live, work and play in your area and because of the density you get far more services.

Ms Spielman : Yes.

CHAIR: Are you familiar with those two areas?

Ms Spielman : To some extent. I think the concept is right that we should be looking at the opportunities to do that mixture of uses and be providing whether it is tax incentives or making land available and so forth to encourage those businesses. As I said earlier, sometimes it takes governments, whether it is local, state or federal government, to take a lead role to say, 'We're going to build an office building to show you what we're on about and to show you what is possible.' An example of that is in WA, in Armadale, where the council built an office building in the town centre. It has leased it out and it has been very successful. That is a demonstration of, 'This is the sort of thing we think can be done', and it has been done very successfully.

CHAIR: Our previous inquiry found that infrastructure should be master planned and always attached to a land use, so that you have both happening. This middle child of yours needs to be really involved in this mix of infrastructure and land use planning to effect a greater balance with our city development.

Ms Spielman : Indeed. Yes, it is a combination of longer term strategic planning—but that is not enough on its own—as well as saying what are the catalytic pieces of infrastructure and the things that are going to support this and make it take off, and then an implementation plan and a pipeline of projects. Yes, I think it will take all of those things. But for our areas, without a focus on them and an agreed cross-government focus, we are still going to be where we are today.

CHAIR: The idea of attaching infrastructure with land use, which will uplift and then bring in the opportunity of value capture to contribute or fund the infrastructure in the first place, would have just as much relevance to what you call your middle child, these outer urban areas. Thinking beyond that, the third child is the regional townships that might have access to both the CBD and these satellites or cities within the cities.

Ms Spielman : Indeed. Our areas already play a role to some extent in servicing those more rural and regional areas on their boundaries. But, yes, that would work that way. Our desire would be to also make best use of that infrastructure. You do not want empty carriages going back to the outer suburbs, for example. You want full carriages going both ways.

Ms BIRD: I will bring this back down to a bit of a micro level again. In your submission, you make the point about some of the funding programs around community amenities—community centres, sporting facilities and all of those things that make liveability and, indeed, health outcomes and all of those other things so important. I read a note in your submission that is quite common to me in Wollongong, which is that governments bring in programs; when it is a city program we are defined as regional and when it is a regional program we are defined as city. Somehow we slip. Is this a similar problem that I am hearing from you for the outer suburbs?

Ms Spielman : Yes, indeed.

Ms BIRD: Would you like to provide some advice to us—and we can make recommendations around programs—for what you think would be useful for governments to think about in those funding programs?

Ms Spielman : A growing suburbs fund at a national level would be helpful.

Ms BIRD: A growing suburbs fund, but one that is targeted at what we would call small to medium sized community infrastructure?

Ms Spielman : Yes. We have argued for a dedicated national infrastructure fund, and that has included the higher level infrastructure, but there is also a need for the aquatic centres, the cultural centres and those sorts of facilities, because of the rapidity of the growth that councils struggle with.

Ms BIRD: We have had a lot of evidence across submissions that to make an effective city you have to have cultural, social and artistic side. That side of life has to be well developed as well. If you are trying to develop your polycities, I do not think it is going to happen and you are not going to get relocations if there is not a certain level of quality of life. It would be a legitimate thing for government to look at doing.

Ms Spielman : Yes, absolutely. As you have seen in our submission, the funds that have been available have been more skewed towards regional areas for the most part. Our areas have gained some projects out of those, but those funds have tended to head further towards supporting regional areas. Yes, something dedicated for our areas would be helpful.

Ms BIRD: Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much for your attendance here today. If you have been asked to provide any additional information would you please forward it to the secretary by Tuesday, 12 September 2017. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and you will have the opportunity to request corrections to transcription errors. Thank you, again, for attending.

Proceedings suspended from 12:32 to 13:20