COAG Reform Council report receives mixed reviews

By Lilia Guan

In a review of Australia’s capital cities, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Reform Council has found that governments need to do more to plan better for the future land use, infrastructure and economies of our cities.
Chairman of the COAG Reform Council, Paul McClintock, said governments need to get better at bringing together different aspects of their city planning.
“Just like you can't solve a Rubik’s cube one side at a time, you can't deal with land use, infrastructure and economic development separately,” Mr McClintock said.

The council found both strengths and weaknesses in the long-term planning of each capital city.
“Our report found that while governments have shown strong commitment to improve their planning systems, none of their systems are entirely consistent with COAG’s agreed criteria to re-shape our capital cities,” Mr McClintock said.
In assessing the eight cities, it was clear that governments share a number of common goals, issues and challenges–and no one government has all the policy levers and expertise to deal with them.
Mr McClintock said that COAG’s reforms and the review process demonstrate the value of collaboration by governments on planning capital cities.
“It is absolutely essential that all nine governments continue to work together to achieve COAG’s objective for our capital cities.”
“The value of improving planning in our cities is clear–around 75 per cent of Australia’s population live in our major cities and these cities generate nearly 80 per cent of GDP.”
“Governments have shown a strong commitment to improve their planning systems and we appreciate their active participation in our review,” Mr McClintock said.
The council has made a number of recommendations to COAG on the need to engage more with community, businesses and other stakeholders; focus more on implementing plans and getting results in cities; and consider ways to improve investment and innovation by the private sector.
In December 2009 COAG agreed that our cities need to be globally competitive, productive, sustainable, and well placed to meet future challenges and growth.
The council reviewed all eight capital city strategic planning systems against COAG’s nine agreed criteria, with the assistance of an expert advisory panel appointed by COAG.
The council submitted its Review of capital city strategic planning systems to COAG on 23 December 2011.
The COAG Reform Council is right to highlight the key challenge in making our cities work better is closer integration of planning and development policies between our governments.
The Business Council of Australia supports the key findings in the CRC’s report assessing the performance of our governments in cities planning.
BCA chief executive Jennifer Westacott on the COAG Reform Council Report into Cities Planning
“Australia’s cities consistently rank well in international comparisons,” she said.
“But with our population projected to grow by around 60 per cent by 2050, our cities will be home to more people and how they function will be critical to Australia’s future economic and social development.”
The BCA supports efforts to promote and sustain improvements in strategic cities planning into the future and congratulates COAG for undertaking this initiative.
However the Urban Taskforce said housing approvals in New South Wales for February have collapsed by 41 per cent and non-residential approvals by 54 per cent while the COAG Reform Council seems to be skirting around real reform.
Urban Taskforce CEO Chris Johnson said the dramatic decrease in building approvals nationally but particularly in NSW is a worrying sign for the state’s economy.
“One would assume that the COAG Reform Council Review of Capital City Strategic Planning Systems would contain some ways forward to solve our housing supply which is driven by population growth but the review says it is silent on immigration levels or settlement patterns in Australia,” he said.
“The review rates each capital city against a dozen criteria. The criteria seem to be very general and exclude policy directions being pursued by governments. Even the ratings seem very imprecise with most being assessed as being partially consistent.
“It is a bit like Nero fiddling while Rome burns or in our case COAG fiddling while housing approvals collapse.”
Mr Johnson said rather than reforming city planning COAG seems to be strengthening the government’s role while stating that the states and territories have the main role but also stressing the importance of local governments.
Read the full article in the June/July edition of Government News out in early June.

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