Big population isn’t a problem for Melbourne

Melbourne can handle many more people and still be a liveable city according to a recent article in the Age.

MELBOURNE’S population growth is likely to slow from an average 1.65 per cent over the past 50 years to 1.4 per cent over the next 50 years. Despite this slowing growth, it will still give Melbourne a population of about 8 million people in or around the year 2060.

What will the city be like? Will it be liveable, or will it be congested and unliveable?

Recent public debate has seen high-profile commentators arguing that population rates should be controlled. They say even 1.4 per cent is too fast, even though we have grown successfully at that rate for 150 years! We can risk economic growth, they argue, as we need to slow population growth to reduce congestion and pollution.

But is population growth the problem, or is it planning for the population that is the problem?

The authors of the articleTom Fricke and Roger Poolewho are members of the executive board of the Committee for Melbourne, say consider this:

A small village can be dirty and congested if it is planned and administered poorly. Likewise, a large city can be clean and uncongested if planned and administered well.

The truth is that population is not the problem — the problem is planning and administration for the likely population size.

The Committee for Melbourne believes a focus on population size is dangerous, as it is distracting the community from debating how we plan, fund and build the right infrastructure for a growing city.

We need a 50-year plan for Melbourne and a new planning and implementation mechanism that includes deep community consultation and engagement.

We need to reinstate long-range planning in our city. The Hoddle grid was laid out with 30-metre-wide streets as the planners of Melbourne believed in a long-term view for our city.

They bequeathed us main streets up to 50 per cent wider than Sydney’s. Consequently, we have more light and more amenity in our streets.

Likewise, the old Melway used to have road, rail and development reservations dotted through it, as the old Board of Works gave Melbourne long-term planning options. Open a Melway today and where are the reservation options? Mostly gone, as has our long-term planning.

The new Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, is starting to talk openly about long-term planning — and his ideas about an urban renewal authority are good. But it is time that we, the general community, stepped up and engaged in the debate on planning and funding our future, not falling for populist lines on population control.

We want freedom of movement between the states. We want the freedom to choose our family sizes. We need skilled migration at least until the superannuation changes are implemented in full in 2025, and we need to take our fair share of humanitarian arrivals. Our population will grow. We need to get over it and make some effective plans for the future of the city.

While some infrastructure categories appear to have received attention, it is difficult to find information on long-term plans for fundamental infrastructure such as roads, passenger rail, freight rail and intermittent/renewable energy.

Do we as a community know or agree on our port options, rail and road options, and storm water harvesting and electricity generation? Have you seen a vision for our future and commented on it?

The cost of dealing with the current infrastructure backlog, in the short term, is likely to be of the order of $100 billion. Public sector funding alone will not be sufficient. We need $17 billion just to remove level crossings. If we don’t move level crossings, we can’t put more trains on the network.

More trains means level crossings stay closed — then the traffic on suburban roads would become impossible.

We need to mobilise the investment resources of individuals and the private sector if we are to fix these problems — but the private sector needs long-term plans and project pipelines.

We don’t have long-term pipelines, so our superannuation funds invest in projects offshore where there are long-term pipelines. We build other people’s infrastructure, not ours!

Victoria is highly regarded for its expertise in private funding of infrastructure. Infrastructure bonds were used to fund the initial CityLink project, and major health projects have been delivered using private-public partnerships.

A clear and flexible long-term plan for urban infrastructure would be a great and memorable legacy for the current state government. Good planning will save hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars in the medium to long term. Corridors for new transport routes need to be set aside now.

The Committee for Melbourne believes that a Victorian infrastructure commission should be established as a permanent statutory body reporting to Parliament as part of a new planning and implementation mechanism for greater Melbourne. The commission would examine the condition and performance of Victoria’s infrastructure and review long-term planning for future needs.

Melbourne is world renowned as a well-planned city. The high standard of living that we enjoy today is the direct result of the meticulous foresight and planning of our predecessors. It is our responsibility to ensure that our children and future generations can enjoy a city that achieves global recognition for its quality of life. Time to reject the populism of the population debate, and start demanding open dialogue on long-term infrastructure planning.

Source – The Age


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