Suburban Utopia? New ‘City Deal’ gets strong stakeholder support

Badgerys Creek: fly-in, train out.


The outer suburban areas of Australia’s major cities will become economically buoyant and easily commutable within just half-an-hour under a new City Deal model deal between Canberra the states and local councils which the Turnbull government says it wants to become the new model of suburbia.

Roping in New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, the Prime Minister on Monday revealed what’s he claims will be “the single largest planning, investment and delivery partnership in the history of this nation” in the form of the “City Deal for Western Sydney” centred on the building of Sydney’s second airport at Badgerys Creek.

It’s a project and policy that despite having mighty claims weighs in at an extra $100 million a year for sustainability projects from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation along with a pot of $50 million for councils to become “Smart Cities”.

Despite the modest funding, it’s the Mr Turnbull and Mr Baird are selling the collaborative intent of the agreement between government’s different arms, along with business, as the real powerhouse to stimulate economic activity – rather than big ticket, shovel ready ‘Utopia’ style projects.

“The Cities Deal will be centred around Western Sydney Airport – the most significant piece of infrastructure that will ever be built in the region – and passenger rail that will link people to the jobs created around the airport,” Mr Turnbull said.

“The new airport alone will create 39,000 new jobs over the next 20 years, but we aim to do much better.”

The vision is a conspicuous reversal of Tony Abbot’s resolute determination to keep Canberra out of public transport investments for the states, especially passenger and light rail, in favour of big new freeway builds like the controversial Westconnex project in Sydney.

A major sticking point between the Baird Government and Canberra had been that the massive project had been given the green light by the Feds under Mr Abbott but initially did not include plans for a rail link, leaving it to the state government to pay for a mass transit connection to a federally administered facility.

Those kinds of demarcation disputes now appear to have been buried with all three layers of government roped into maximising the flow on effects of the airport and rail investment to generate new growth in housing and jobs.

“We aim to catalyse the additional 178,000 new homes and almost 200,000 new jobs that will be required to support the population directly around the airport – which is projected to reach over 1.4 million over this period,” Mr Turnbull and Mr Baird said in a joint statement.

The elevation of major urban and city planning into the federal policy mix is a marked departure from traditional administrative and funding models in Australia that have usually used a ‘top down’ rather than ‘networked’ approach that often skewed towards the regions.

“Australia’s cities are home to the majority of our population and responsible for more than 80 per cent of national economic output,” Mr Turnbull said, adding the Coalition “knows that smart policy, smart investment and smart technology are critical to secure the prosperity of our cities and a high standard of living for all Australians.”

A persistent frustration of federal infrastructure funding policy has been that projects are often skewed towards state government interests and political demands because of the subordinate ranking of local governments and communities intended to be the ultimate beneficiaries.

The ‘City Deal’ both Turnbull and Baird are advocating for a far more coordinated approach pledging that “the Federal and State governments will work with local councils to develop a vision for Western Sydney and agree on the goals, actions and investments required to deliver it.”

“We will form a joint-Ministerial Council with ultimate accountability for the City Deal supported by officials from all three levels of government including direct representatives of the Prime Minister and Premier,” Mr Turnbull said.

Stakeholders are so far applauding the move.

“The recent report from Western Sydney University titled ‘Addressing Western Sydney’s Jobs Slide’ demonstrated that despite much rhetoric over recent years the number of jobs relative to population in Western Sydney is reducing. It will be important that specific job targets are set to give a focus to the decision-making process in the City Deal,” said Chris Johnson, chief executive of developer group Urban Taskforce.

However he cautioned serious infrastructure money still needed to flow to make it a success.

“It is essential that the City Deal comes with Federal Government funding to help establish essential infrastructure for the region. The most important infrastructure will be a fast rail connection between the Western Sydney Airport and the Sydney CBD via Liverpool and possibly Parramatta. It will also be important to have improved rail connections running north-south connecting Campbelltown, the Airport and Penrith,” Mr Johnson said.

The Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils (WSROC) also welcomed creation of targeted and comprehensive plan to tackle housing, employment and transport in Sydney’s West by the state and federal governments.

“After strong campaigning, we are finally seeing a holistic approach to building Western Sydney, one that is supported by both state and federal governments, and works in partnership with local councils,” said Councillor Tony Hadchiti, president of WSROC.

“Our region is growing so rapidly that we simply must have a plan for its development,” he said. “It seems like a simple thing, but a coordinated plan for the region, one that looks at where housing, employment and transport links are placed, and how they work together as a system is something that has been neglected in the past.”

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) said the commitment to fund smart, sustainable cities was a “step in the right direction.”

“The Coalition has announced three new cities policies that have the potential to reshape our nation,” the GBCA’s chief executive, Romilly Madew, said.

“We applaud the promise of $100 million for a Sustainable Cities Investment Fund, which would be delivered through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“We are particularly pleased to see that funds would be invested in a range of projects, including green building, retrofit projects and precinct-scale energy generation systems. We have long called for extra investment and incentives to encourage building upgrades and retrofits – this is a good start,” Ms Madew said.

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