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Town planning: Federal Government should recognise the consequences of its macro-economic policies on those who are trying to run the cities

PRU GOWARD: Remember the Whitlam years when regional development, planning and urban renewal were respectable, even fashionable; they were very high profile? Well, after a decade and a half of neglect, urban renewal might be made for a come-back on the political agenda. At the Evatt Memorial Lecture in Sydney tonight the Prime Minister is expected to launch a strategy for the renewal of Australian cities. We thought we'd attempt a few predictions this morning and a look at what the Prime Minister ought to say on this subject. John Mant, a town planner and consultant, head of the Town Planning Department in South Australia during the late 70s, formerly of the Department of Regional Development here in the early 70s; now a consultant. Welcome to the program John Mant.

JOHN MANT: Hi, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: John Mant, why do we need urban renewal, and where, especially?

JOHN MANT: Well, I think it's probably not just a matter of urban renewal. I, of course, always believed that the Federal Government ought to be involved more explicitly in the cities. And if the Prime Minister's going to recognise that tonight, I think that's terrific. What happens in our cities is very much affected by what the Commonwealth Government does in things like immigration policy, the sorts of tax breaks it gives home owners; these are sort of demands that are thrust upon State and local government. And, at the moment, both State and local government are having a great deal of difficulty in coping with the demands that are being put on them, so far as the cities are concerned.

PRU GOWARD: But aren't they closer to the coal face than a national government would be?

JOHN MANT: Well, of course they are. And fundamentally the State governments and councils are responsible for what happens on the ground in the cities. But the demands for new development; the demands for renewal are very much fed by the sort of policies that the Commonwealth Government has, at the sort of more macro scale.

PRU GOWARD: So we're talking about more than doing up old houses and renewing parks in the inner areas?

JOHN MANT: That's not a role for the Federal Government.

PRU GOWARD: No.

JOHN MANT: The Federal Government has a major role in ensuring that the State and local governments have enough capital funds to pay for the infrastructure that is going to be needed to cope with the population demand.

PRU GOWARD: And what sort of infrastructure are we talking about?

JOHN MANT: Well, we're facing a very serious situation. In the 70s there was a lot of investment in pipes and wires, sewerage, transport systems, and so on, and the State governments have been living off that investment for the last eight or nine years. Everyone realises that over the next few years there's going to have to be significant capital investment in urban infrastructure. And, frankly, the State governments can't afford it. Now, it's a national problem. It deserves the attention of the national government and so that's why I welcome Mr Hawke's interest.

PRU GOWARD: But what can he do, just sign the cheques?

JOHN MANT: No. But I think the Federal Government needs to recognise the consequences of its macro-economic policies for those who are trying to run the cities.

PRU GOWARD: What in particular, capital gains taxes?

JOHN MANT: Well, capital gains tax is obviously a major...the lack of a capital gains tax on the family home is obviously the major reason why people invest a lot of money in family homes. And that, in part - a small part, perhaps - forces a lot of development, particularly new development, on the fringe. So, it's a complex scene; it's one that requires the three levels of government to get together and ensure that overall there's a reasonable approach to the way in which our cities are developing. Over the last few years we haven't had the Federal government in there, in any significant way and it's overdue for them to show some concern.

PRU GOWARD: But what can they really do?

JOHN MANT: Well, they could recognise the demands for capital that the State and local councils have, and adjust the borrowing arrangements between the Federal and State governments. They could ensure that the sorts of things that they do, which do affect the way in which cities develop, such as, where they put their airports, what major transport planning systems they have, that they make these decisions having regard to the effects that they're going to have on the development of cities. Things like the very fast train, for example, that is a major urban policy issue and one which the Commonwealth should play a very significant role in.

PRU GOWARD: Well, the Prime Minister's talked about supplying marriage counselling services and child care, but I take it that's something you'd see more appropriately done by a State or local government?

JOHN MANT: I would. And I suppose that he would be more interested in treating the causes of problems rather than the symptoms.

PRU GOWARD: Yes. I wonder whether he'd be so keen on your suggestion to alter the borrowing arrangements. It's not the time for big ticket items.

JOHN MANT: Pru, it may not be the time for big ticket items. The Federal Government needs to recognise that and question some of its macro-economic policies accordingly. We can't continue to bring large numbers of migrants, for example, into Sydney particularly - and Melbourne - without recognising that it's going to need capital to service the infrastructure which those households demand. That's a national problem. It's not something that's going to be solved by a few social services out on the fringe of our cities, welcome as though they....

PRU GOWARD: Though they might be. John Mant, thanks for your time this morning. It was nice to speak to you, and we'll catch up with you next week.

JOHN MANT: Righto, Pru.

PRU GOWARD: John Mant, town planner.