In June 2009 the Western Australian Planning Commission (WAPC) released Directions 2031,  its draft spatial
framework for metropolitan Perth. This document is intended to guide the detailed planning and delivery of
housing, infrastructure and services to accommodate an expected increase in Perth's resident population from
1.6 million in 2006 to 2.2 million in 2031. It describes the optimum metropolitan structure required to meet this
demand, and sets targets for the distribution of population, housing and jobs across the sub-regions of the City.
The overarching aspirations of the framework are laudable: but questions can be raised about the market based
assumptions on which delivery of the proposed metropolitan spatial structure depends. More importantly,
implementation of the strategy faces deep challenges, given the realities of planning governance in this jurisdiction.
Directions 2031 is written to provide a spatial dimension to its predecessor, Network City,  which identifies a
range of aspirational strategies for managing Perth's growth sustainably. As such Directions 2031 seeks a
more compact metropolitan region and to constrain urban sprawl and its assumed malaises, such as the
dislocation of places of work from places of residence, poor accessibility to social, cultural and recreational
services, the high costs of infrastructure provision on the urban fringe, and the high environmental costs
associated with increased private vehicle use and the take-up of greenbelt and agricultural land.
Such aspirations are not new (urban planners have sought to contain the growth of Perth, with varying degree of
success, since the development of the Stephenson-Hepburn Plan  in 1955) but are expressed within Directions
2031 in terms of a ‘Connected City' concept, in which a hierarchy of activity centres, with enhanced levels of
housing, employment and services self-sufficiency, are linked via an integrated public and private transport
network. Overarching targets set by the framework include 47% of all new dwellings accommodated within
existing developed areas (infill) (a 50% improvement on current trends) and an increase from 10 to 15 dwellings
per gross hectare for greenfield development  , in order to accommodate 328,000 new dwellings and 353,000
The Connected City model is an attempt to contain urban growth whilst at the same time fostering a redistribution
of employment and services growth at strategic activity nodes within the existing metropolitan footprint, away
from the CBD. Given that 60% of Perth's population lives beyond the inner-middle suburbs, yet lacks the level
of employment self-sufficiency, housing mix, and access to services enjoyed by residents of the
inner-metropolitan area, the spatial framework proposed is, to paraphrase Professor Richard Weller, more
‘frittata' than ‘fried egg or soufflé', being a departure from a more traditional ‘Core-Periphery' or ‘Growth Corridor'
model of development.
Whilst consolidation will continue to occur in the CBD core, the bulk of growth is planned for selected activity
centres, providing opportunities for localised and self-sufficient employment, residential, recreational and civic
activity, in pursuit of enhanced liveability, prosperity, equity, accessibility and environmental responsibility.
So far so good; a holistic approach to creating places including every planning aspect of sustainable development.
But are these objectives somewhat ‘heroic' given the nature of the economic processes driving the development
of Australia's urban regions and given the reality of current consumer preferences? The elements of housing,
employment, transport and other infrastructure needs appear to have been addressed, but does Directions 2031
leave too much to chance given how the markets for these goods currently operate?
Labour and housing deserve close consideration, since there is a strong link between work, income and skills
and peoples' housing choices, and subsequent patterns of transport usage and access to services. The spatial
dynamics of employment and housing have a fundamental impact on the viability of communities. There is
potential for positive feedback in terms of investment attraction, jobs growth and residential development, if
quality jobs and services co-exist or are highly accessible to residents (and at low transaction costs).
The spatial strategy within Directions 2031 is informed by an analysis of population growth and structure
changes (an ageing population and a migration fuelled growth in young workers and couples with children).
Nevertheless there is a disconnect between the existing spatial pattern of employment and housing take-up
in Perth, and the assumption held with Directions 2031 that this can change within the scope of existing
planning guidelines, without the need for more far reaching policy interventions.
The argument runs like this. Jobs and housing need to be considered in unison if planners are to achieve a
genuinely sustainable community. Jobs, particularly those higher order jobs which drive demand for attractive
goods and services and which fuel the levels of consumption needed to attract a variety of retail businesses,
services and investment to an area, are ‘sticky'; they tend to agglomerate around existing employment centres,
which are in turn attractive to other businesses and employers. Encouraging such agglomeration in
under-developed areas is difficult and private investment tends not to be attracted to an area unless a critical
mass has been achieved, or unless Government intervenes with a sufficient package of incentives in the early
phases of development. Left to market mechanisms alone, jobs are unlikely to be attracted to Perth's proposed
activity centres at rates above those achieved in the inner-metropolitan area.
So to housing: high density dwellings of the type envisaged are up to twice as expensive per square metre to
purchase as lower density units on the urban fringe. When faced with the choice between an expensive high
density unit in a middle to outer metropolitan location and a cheaper, larger dwelling on the suburban fringe
just a few kilometres away (perhaps with a garden and room for two cars and a boat), most households would
understandably opt for the later. This will be the case even if the household has employment in a suburban activity centre.
The difference in price partly reflects the higher construction costs for multi-storey units, but has more to do
with what the market doesn't price than the cost of lifts and unionised labour. Like for like, high density
housing in an established urban area should be cheaper to build and service than lower density units on a
greenfield site, if the true costs of such development - in terms of servicing, lost agricultural land, water use,
and increased travel times and pollution - were internalised by the housing consumer. While these externalities
remain un-costed, it is hard to see why a high density dwelling in a middle-to-outer suburban centre, lacking
attractive jobs and the associated mix of commercial, retail and community investment, would present an
attractive housing option. As a result, the demand for high density dwellings will continue to be in the inner City
core, with its established locational advantages and proximity to higher income jobs.
If the spatial structure proposed is to be achieved, a more interventionist approach by Government, so that the
true costs of our consumption are priced or taxed, will need to be taken.
But other concerns arise, even if we assume that labour and housing market dynamics were operating in
favour of an activities centre strategy. What is the likelihood of the strategy actually being implemented
under the existing planning system?
Securing land for consolidation, densification and transport infrastructure will be the main challenge for
implementation of the strategy. Directions 2031 is not a statutory plan and more detailed policies and
programs at the local level are to follow in the form of activity centre policies and an activity centres planning
program undertaken by the Department for Planning in collaboration with local government. Concerns have
already been voiced about the capacity of some local councils to prepare and implement the necessary
local plans in order to meet the infill targets, but while not invalid, this unease ultimately misses the point.
Successful implementation of the strategy is as much a question of the scale at which implementation
bodies work and coordinate their activities, as it is about their internal capacity.
The challenge of integrating land use needs with public transport needs demonstrates this point, given the
potential for conflict between existing land uses and transport infrastructure requirements that bisect multiple
local government areas. Buffer areas and corridors need to be identified early on and then protected against
encroachment from incompatible uses. But are local governments, which act to address local level concerns,
best placed to govern on planning issues of regional or metropolitan wide importance? At present such areas
are treated as land banks for future development and are not reserved as part of a metropolitan wide strategy
that coordinates land use with transport planning. Directions 2031 is asking a local level of governance to
coordinate a metropolitan wide plan.
So if the aspirations of the plan are good, but the theory behind its implementation is lacking, what might be
the solution? Australia's own planning history in the early days of urbanisation provides a clue, in the existence
of metropolitan authorities like the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works or the National Capital
Development Authority. Arguably, the only way to ensure that the Connected City model is effectively
implemented is to use legislation to empower a metropolitan authority with both planning and development
powers. The sustainability of Perth depends on it.
. WAPC (2009) Directions 2031: Draft Spatial Framework for Perth and Peel
. WAPC (2004) Network City: Community Planning Strategy for Perth and Peel
. Stephenson and Hepburn (1955) Plan for the Metropolitan Region,
Perth and Fremantle
. WAPC (2009) Directions 2031: Draft Spatial Framework for Perth and Peel,
p 12 and 13
. Richard Weller (2009) Boom Town 2050: Scenarios for a Rapidly Growing City
. National Housing Supply Council (2008) State of Supply Report
. Labour on construction sites for properties of more than four storeys is