Perth and Peel at 3.5 million

Yesterday morning a Council colleague and I attended a Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) breakfast dedicated to Perth and Peel at 3.5 million (P&Pat3.5m). Chair of the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) Eric Lumsden gave an overview of the P&Pat3.5m document, followed by a short panel discussion from local government and industry professionals.

As a follow up from Directions 2031 it was anticipated this document would provide a blueprint for Perth from an ever-expanding metropolis of about 2 million, to a connected city able to support 3.5 million. Blueprint this was not, nor was it a plan for a connected city. The Property Council of Australia’s Chris Palandri said in a press release “There is great expectation in the development sector that the State Government’s draft Perth and Peel @ 3.5 Million would be a game changer for Perth’s growth. Unless it is quickly backed up with measures to ensure its delivery it will be an anti climax.” Whilst my motivations are quite different from those of the Property Council, I fully support those comments. It is internationally acknowledged that as cities grow they have to fundamentally change from having a central CBD with radial roads to the suburbs (known as linear cities) to cities with interconnected centres where people can live, work and play. The CBD changes from being the centre of all things, to a place where one visits for special and important occasions, such as the opera, rock concerts, court visits or visits to multinational business headquarters. Furthermore a population of 2 million is acknowledged as that trigger point. Perth is now at that point and we need to undergo that transformation pretty quickly, and key changes have to be moving from a car focused city to a transit focused one, and cease the rampant urban sprawl.  P&Pat3.5m MUST introduce mechanisms to foster these changes now as a matter of urgency to embed resilience into out city. As Prof Peter Newman says, “the alternative is gated suburbs for the wealth surrounded by Mad Max suburban sprawl”.

Directions 2031 aspired to Perth becoming a connected city, yet Eric Lumsden was very clear that public transport was just too expensive to roll-out as a matter of policy and would only be considered as a reward for those areas that undertake significant densification. This attitude totally misses the point. Trying to weave transit into a densified suburb would be close to impossible; alternatively strategically located transit will foster densification through value capture. Likewise the argument that transit infrastructure is too expensive is also flawed, because it only stands up when considered from a government silo with short-term horizons. Last Wednesday on Radio National Late Night Live (LNL) included a debate with urban experts; Prof. Jeff Kenworthy, Prof. Felix Laube and Dr. Michelle Zeibotts. The listeners were told that a recent Infrastructure Australia report says car travel times in Australian Cities will double in 20 years, with an additional cost burden to society of $53 billion in lost productivity. This must sound very familiar to car commuters in Perth. A cost benefit assessment including all the benefits of transit such as community health, less roads and cars, as well as the already mentioned value capture and improved productivity would show we cannot afford to delay transit infrastructure any longer.

LNL guests gave us inspiring examples such as Hong Kong where the expansion into the New Territories is managed by the train companies, who run out the public transport infrastructure first, then sell the land to developers recouping the cost of the infrastructure, returning the original valuation of the land to the Government and using the remainder to fund the new services. The panel agreed that Zurich was the example of one of the world’s best transit, and hence liveable cities. How did they do it? They took the transit task off government and formed a unique authority that manages transit via community consultation and citizen juries. It comes as no surprise that citizens understand the need for long term vision when considering transit far better than governments with short term election cycle vision.

P&Pat3.5m has to be a vision for a connected city, we cannot wait until its too late to act, come on State Government stop wasting our money on more roads, guaranteed to worsen congestion and show some vision for transit. You never know we may one day get short listed as a global liveable city!

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