Empower local governments to deliver better outcomes for their communities

As Australia’s population grows, we need to improve the way we plan to provide infrastructure in our cities. Between 2017 and 2047, Australia’s population is projected to increase by over 11 million people. Around 80% of this growth will occur in our five largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

To support this growth, we need to deliver new housing and substantially upgrade the capacity of many of our infrastructure networks in a strategic and coordinated way.

However, far from supporting or directing growth in our cities, infrastructure and service provision is currently struggling to keep pace with housing delivery.

In order to better cater for growth, it is critical that we are able to ensure that infrastructure investment can be better directed to the areas where growth is occurring or where infrastructure capacity exists.

Local governments have a critical role to play in this process.

Infrastructure Australia’s latest Reform Series paper, Planning Liveable Citiesfound it is crucial that local governments are empowered to better plan for growth, apply appropriate, targeted funding models, and engage more collaboratively with the community.

Local governments play an important role in translating broader strategic visions to the local level, and communicating the real trade-offs of change to communities.

When translating strategic plans to the local level, local governments must be empowered and resourced to deliver for their community, and be accountable for delivering outcomes consistent with overarching state or regional plans.

Too many communities have witnessed the delivery of poor-quality housing development that is not well integrated into the local area and not accompanied by the infrastructure and services needed to support it. As a result, communities are understandably apprehensive about change.

Community engagement needs to be more collaborative in nature and start at the early strategic planning stage to help define the direction for their area, not just occur as one-off responses to particular projects or developments that are already planned and designed.  

This creates a better framework for local decisions that take into account a broader direction for a place and for state government support in delivering the necessary infrastructure and services.

In turn, local governments are enabled to deliver more diverse housing, including at higher densities, in a way that supports the character and identity of their area.

And finally, it is essential that we review our infrastructure funding mechanisms to ensure they are fit for purpose, particularly for local governments.

There are many examples where local governments have received housing targets and planning policies from state governments, without the ability to raise enough money or the right state support and investment, to achieve them.

Our paper recommends that governments conduct reviews of current funding mechanisms in each state to assess their adequacy.

As part of this, recommendations should be developed to ensure that the suite of mechanisms available to local governments is providing adequate support to fund the necessary infrastructure required to support growth in their area.

OP-ED – By Peter Colacino, Executive Director – Policy and Research, Infrastructure Australia