By Julian Bajkowski
Australia’s peak planning body, the Planning Institute of Australia, has thrown its weight behind an ambitious bid to establish a new “Urban Infrastructure Fund” that aims to garner substantial institutional and retail financial investment to kick-start $500 billion in sorely needed projects.
A statement issued by the PIA says it will join forces with other “development, planning and built environment groups” under the umbrella group of the “The Urban Coalition.”
The new group has launched a plan that calls for better leadership and investment “investment in infrastructure requirements that make cities work” and represents a potential challenger to existing developer interest groups including Urban Taskforce.
The bid by Urban Coalition to generate new investment stimulus comes as federal and state governments struggle with the financial consequences of reduced tax receipts and increased demands for reinvestment in and renewal of big ticket requirements like transport and civil construction.
Urban Coalition comprises of a range of interested parties that spans across the development industry, environmental and sustainability groups and professional associations.
It includes the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council, Australian Conservation Foundation, Association of Building Sustainability Assessors, Consult Australia, Green Building Council of Australia, Institute of Architects, National Growth Areas Alliance, Planning Institute of Australia, Property Council of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia.
The head of the Planning Institute, Kirsty Kelly warned that providing proper infrastructure for our cities has now become a “planning priority for Australia”.
“Australia needs to better manage population growth and this means finding a way to fund infrastructure required on a number of levels,” Ms Kelly said.
Ms Kelly said that many past decisions that shaped Australian cities were responses “to challenges of a different age.”
“We now have to face emerging issues and population growth is one of them,” Ms Kelly said.
More controversially, the Urban Coalition has called for the federal government to enter into a policy area that has traditionally been the domain of state governments
“We would like to see a stronger role for Infrastructure Australia and the establishment of a new Federal Government department which would incorporate the Major Cities Unit,” Ms Kelly said.
However the proposal for a greater role for Canberra has drawn immediate fire from established property development lobby group Urban Taskforce that represents many big-name construction firms and their funders.
“The recent proposals to lift the role of the Federal Government in planning cities misunderstand the role state governments play in transport, planning and investment in our cities,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.
“The State Governments are the level of government in Australia that determines public transport, planning for growth, location of jobs and the provision of infrastructure. The Federal Government needs to distribute funds to the states but should leave the city building tasks to the State Government.”
Mr Johnson warned that if the federal government “becomes too interventionist in city planning” it would create confusion over where responsibilities fell.
But the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA, which is part of the Urban Coalition, is arguing that the proposed new Urban Infrastructure Fund and a new federal department for cities is an imperative.
“City policy must be prioritised by the Australian Government to ensure more strategic planning of our cities and regions,” GBCA’s Federal Advocacy Manager, Katy Dean said.
“Innovative models that drive infrastructure investment based on positive outcomes can help our communities to reach high benchmarks for liveability, prosperity, sustainability and resilience.”
In particular, the GBCA is pointing to infrastructure projects that the new Urban Infrastructure Fund could cover as public transport systems, schools, hospitals and affordable housing which it says will “demonstrate benefit and value to the community.”
The Queensland state government this week came under fire after it floated the idea of selling off tranches of existing public housing in inner Brisbane to potentially fund the building of new developments.
The move comes as state governments across Australia contend with deteriorating social housing estates where unemployment, crime and poverty have become concentrated and sometimes span across generations.
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