Patrick Fensham proposes a new Urban Renewal Compact in growth and renewal areas in Melbourne and Sydney.
The Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) has proposed ‘Growth Infrastructure Compacts’ which will involve state agencies aligning their asset management and investment plans to government-endorsed development sequencing and infrastructure plans in major planned renewal areas. The first is to be developed in the Greater Parramatta to Olympic Peninsula (GPOP) region. In response, SGS Principal and Partner Patrick Fensham proposes a new Urban Renewal Compact in growth and renewal areas in Melbourne and Sydney.
I commend the Greater Sydney Commission for this important initiative. In response, I have written a paper proposing a new Urban Renewal Compact in growth and renewal areas in Melbourne and Sydney. My proposed approach has a more local, 'liveability' focus than that proposed by the GSC, including a commitment to engagement with local government and local affected communities.
An unprecedented paradigm for infill development in Sydney and Melbourne
Sydney and Melbourne are experiencing historically high rates of population growth and housing development. Sydney has added 79,800 people and approximately 26,800 dwellings per year over the last three years, while Melbourne has grown by 91,800 people and 31,800 dwellings per year in the same period. The big historical shift in the provision of this new housing in Sydney and Melbourne has been its more recent ‘infill’ focus. Where these cities used to grow outwards in ‘greenfield’, new release areas on the urban fringe, an increasing share is now within the established areas. While Sydney has typically had anywhere from 70 per cent to 90 per cent of its housing built in established areas over the last 20 years, Melbourne is now catching up, with around 70 per cent of all new housing built in established areas since 2014.
Typically the land supply for recent infill development has come from the conversion of industrial sites to residential. The expectation in future is that corridors with existing rail transport and traditional inner or middle ring suburban residential subdivision patterns will host much more of the infill development. Both A Plan for Growing Sydney and Plan Melbourne identify centres and transport corridors in established areas for a much larger role in future.
An insufficient current commitment to 'productivity, liveability and sustainability' outcomes in renewal area planning
For some suburbs, renewal proposals represent a wholesale ‘reworking’ at much higher densities with hundreds of new dwellings per year. Communities often have reasonable concerns about what the redevelopment means, how the traffic and transport networks will cope, how street-level amenity will be affected, whether there will be sufficient open space and whether schools and other social infrastructure provision will be sufficient. ‘Business as usual’, incremental infrastructure provision, segmented amongst state government agencies and local government, is unlikely to deliver an urban outcome that meets the amenity and liveability aspirations of the communities that will emerge in these locations, as well as the wider productivity and sustainability aims that underpin metropolitan strategic planning.
With a longer and more established history in Australian cities, planning for greenfield development – while far from perfect – typically includes or at least promises some integration with local and state agencies for infrastructure provision and community development. Major renewal propositions should also be subject to comprehensive planning with commitments to integrated infrastructure provision, and enhancements to general neighbourhood amenity. Otherwise, the average quality of life for residents in a redeveloped precinct, and its surrounds is at risk of declining over time.
The potential scope for a new Urban Renewal Community Compact with the community
Unless infill renewal is undertaken with regard for place-based outcomes, we risk incumbent community resistance on a much greater scale than the recent outbreaks of so-called NIMBYism. We risk the advantage derived from Australia’s reputation for liveable cities and we risk our ability to meet international commitments we have signed up to such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The way to ‘bring people along’ is to show a dividend from growth and ensure that while the quality and character of life might be different, overall it will be better, not worse, than before.
A new ‘UrbanRenewal Community Compact’, involving a commitment to integrated planning by state and local agencies is suggested. This would have a local focus, on the assumption that alternative or equivalent processes for metropolitan, district or subregional physical and social infrastructure planning (for secondary school places or hospital beds for example) are in place or also established. The ‘Urban Renewal Community Compact’ would involve:
- Declaring an Urban Renewal Community Compact Area where significant change is anticipated (there are no hard and fast thresholds but areas expected to grow at well above average rates, say at two to five per cent per annum, and anticipating a population of say 8,000 to 10,000 or above at ‘build out’, would-be candidates)
- Establishing a formal governance arrangement including relevant state agencies, local government and genuine community representation in declared renewal areas (some suggestions for governance roles are discussed later)
- Developing outcomes and indicators for ‘liveability’ in precincts slated for major renewal
- Undertaking baseline measurements for each of the indicators
- Making a commitment to the community, for example in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding, that through more effective integrated planning and intra-agency cooperation outcomes will be measured against these indicators post-development and be maintained or enhanced
- Developing a robust funding and implementation framework.
For any particular precinct, the actual indicators and measurable outcomes are likely to vary depending on the baseline provision, but a Compact might ultimately include commitments to, for example:
- Increasing area/quality/accessibility of active open space assets
- Increasing the ratio of accessible community/cultural facilities with capacity
- Increasing the length of dedicated bike paths and safe and 'off road' pedestrian paths
- Increasing the ratio of accessible public education places to primary school age children'
- Housing diversity to respond to the changing composition of households
- Increasing the share of social and affordable dwellings
- Increasing the share of accessible metropolitan jobs through local transport infrastructure improvements linked to metropolitan networks
- Reduced car dependency
- Improving the environmental performance of the precinct in terms of energy usage, CO2 emissions, water consumption, runoff (WSUD), waste, heat stress, biodiversity.