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ShapingSEQ: Sustainable Futures for 2041 and Beyond?

By Denis Bright

Time alone will fully test the capacity of the South East Queensland Regional Growth Plan (2016-41) (ShapingSEQ) to deliver sustainable urban and regional development.

At stake are the challenges of improving the quality of life of an additional 2 million people in SEQ by 2041. The regional population is projected to increase to 5.35 million in the next 25 years and to 6 million in 2050 and 7.2 million in 2061.

ShapingSEQ is steered by a pragmatic balance between broad policy priorities with a significant delivery of commercial and residential growth by market forces. Market Led Proposals (MLPs) are still the flavour of the year in Qld Treasury for the delivery of some infrastructure and economic development agendas.

ShapingSEQ will take up this challenge by administrative consensus-building between seven core state government departments and twelve regional local authorities across South East Queensland (SEQ).

Despite colourful pro-infrastructure rhetoric from Prime Minister Turnbull, the federal government is currently making only a token financial contribution to assist the SEQ Regional Planning Committee.

In this era of federal financial austerity, big ticket economic development and infrastructure items are being delivered through the more meagre resources of state and local governments in this and other target regions across Australia.


Shaping SEQ Strategic Plan 2016:24-25

Shaping SEQ Strategic Plan 2016:24-25


Concentrating the development of new housing, employment and community services near existing and projected transport corridors is of course a welcome feature of Transport Oriented Development mechanisms (ToDs).

Evaluation of the effectiveness of new public transport initiatives is crucial to balance five priority themes for the attainment of the 50 year vision which underlies ShapingSEQ.

A cautious incremental to the provision of transport infrastructure comes from Q Treasury guidelines. The use of public transport is expected to double to 14 per cent of total trips in 2031. SEQ will remain a largely dependent new motorways to the cheers of aspiring LNP representatives at state and federal levels.

The Strategic Passenger Transport Challenge

Cost restraints are evident in the curtailment of some projected rail expansion plans in favour of bus transport and light rail ventures. Such infrastructure and accompanying community development projects would require large amounts of federal infrastructure funding which is not forthcoming under the current LNP federal government.

Even Brisbane’s Cross-river metro rail project has not received definite federal funding beyond a token $10 million for the current planning phase.

Election of a state LNP government in 2018 might result in a total abandonment of the Cross-river metro rail project which has attracted sceptical comments from Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

The financial challenges for planning in a neoliberal era

The Australian Government’s Smart Cities Programme is a windfall for the property developers in an era of financial austerity in federal government sectors.

The federally endorsed 30 Minute Cities Project strives to reduce unnecessary motor vehicle traffic by improving the economic and cultural self-sufficiency in new freeway suburbs.

Property developers will play a leading role in delivering these new urban futures and will be cheered on by inclusive sustainable planning rhetoric that without appropriate levels of public sector funding.

Optional extras like the revitalization of inner established city areas and the construction of new peripheral growth centres are beyond the price tag of a centre-right LNP national government.

This is evident in a historical regional city like Ipswich with its projected population of 435,000 by 2031.

The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads still publicises a public transport rail corridor to link the Ipswich CBD to new suburban growth areas as far as the Springfield Town Centre which is 25 kms away.

This projected rail corridor from the Top of Town Precinct in Ipswich will pass through an underutilized mixed land use inner city zone at West Ipswich. It follows the now closed rail corridor to the left of the high-lighted property redevelopment site.

Extending this projected rail link to Ipswich University, the Ripley Valley and Springfield will cost billions if the scope of this project was extended to cover connecting bus terminals, off-street-parking network, an additional railway station complex for the Top of Town in Ipswich and substantial flood mitigation measures for low lying parts of the Ipswich CBD and future suburban creek crossings.

A future Top of Town Ipswich CBD project might include a well landscaped pedestrian precinct with high aesthetic standards, fitness and indoor swimming facilities as well as appropriate commercial, entertainment and cultural facilities that are appropriate for one of Australia’s most historic regional centres.

Public expenditure of this urban renewal is currently far beyond the financial resources of the state government which will struggle to finance the high priority Cross-river metro rail link in Brisbane’s CBD.

Overseas models of successful Infrastructure and Community Development Funds are of course available. Such measures do not fit in with the marcoeconomic tool kit of the current federal LNP government.

Singapore’s capacity to fund sustainable infrastructure is influenced by retention of key sectors of the national economy within the government sector.

Funds are also injected into the national budget of Singapore from profits generated by sovereign wealth funds such as the Development Bank of Singapore and the national two sovereign wealth funds of Temasek Holdings and GIC Private Ltd.

Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) has developed the art of planned development with co-operation from these established social market institutions to accommodate a current population of 5.5 million in an area that is just half the size of the City of Brisbane.

In the absence of viable Infrastructure and Community Development Investment Funds, prospects for a smooth delivery of big-ticket infrastructure items in the ShapingSEQ Plan are highly questionable.

In the battle of political wills between underfunded state, federal governments and local authorities, property development lobbies are likely to have the right of way in the delivery of essential ToD growth centres in the ShapingSEQ Plan.

Feedback is welcome from other localities on the success and limitations of reliance on the development lobbies for the delivery of a sustainable long-term vision for near metropolitan regions in Australia and overseas locations.

Questions on the sustainability of public infrastructure funding for ShapingSEQ were raised with Queensland Treasury and the Queensland Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning. This article can easily be modified to accommodate any forthcoming feedback.

Submission of this article cannot be delayed indefinitely as the ShapingSEQ Plan is still in its formative phase at a time when more public discussion is required before the deadline for community feedback on the ShapingSEQ Plan closes on 3 March 2017.

denisDenis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in developing pragmatic public policies based on commitment to a social market that is highly compatible with trends in contemporary globalization.



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  1. Reg

    Denis In simple terms by 2035 – 40 SEQ will have population of around 4m and Sydney around 7m (most of which are to be spread around western Sydney where our brilliant government has located a 24/7 international airport without first producing any master-plan or approved environmental plan). The major tourism entry centres of Australia are SEQ and Sydney and where about 60% of all tourists arrive. All the seaside and attractive country towns between these centres are potential boom towns for both tourism and essential decentralization given the correct infrastructure.

    With the huge increase in population over the next 20 years and the cries for ‘jobs and growth’ is not this the type of project requiring immediate master- planning? The simple announcement (alone) of a plan for high speed rail along the coast would drive exceptional enterprise and development while an approval of the project would drive incredible economic growth and job creation for over fifteen years.

    Try to explain that this project is essential for the future of tourism and movement of population and development of QLD and NSW and our ministers go blank and the tourism people eye dead..

  2. Jacky

    A timely focus on inadequate federal funding of infrastructure and community development for our cities and regions. Brisbane is just an example of a national problem.

  3. Tessa

    Delivery of key infrastructure is crucial to sustainably managing population growth and development in SEQ. Funding mechanisms for major infrastructure projects should be further considered as part of the development of the regional plan. Alternative funding models are an innovative approach to infrastructure delivery and may be what we need to turn a dotted line on plan into a new Rail corridor.

  4. Marilyn

    I have seen those blank looks and the people marketing this airport as essential for our future development do not live in Western Sydney! I am met with those same glassy looks when I try to explain that this location is not suitable for an airport for the following reasons:

    It will severely increase air pollution in Western Sydney which is already very close to World Health upper limit and predicted to exceed the standard before 2025, from all the vehicle emissions. In 2006 it was found that between 600 to 1400 people were dying each year from the health impacts of air pollution in Sydney from vehicle emissions.

    The location cannot meet International Safety Standards for Bird and Bat Strike because within the 13km radius required for a safety zone are located the protected areas of Warragamba Dam and Blue Mountains National Park. Flocks of Corellas, Cockatoos, Galahs and Rosellas live here as well as Eagles, Kites, Swans and Pelicans. Criss crossing the airport location itself are multiple camps for the protected Grey-Headed Flying Fox. Each of these species has the potential to cause catastrophic engine damage from multiple strikes.

    Where will an aircraft crash? Residential areas? Hospital? Schools? Water Supply? Transgrid Pylons? Shopping Centres?

    This is the only location in the whole of NSW where essential infrastructure for water, gas and electricity all lie within the high risk zone for an accident.

    The Nepean River forms a natural path for a terror attack on the Warragamba Dam Wall. An A380 airbus has the mass at velocity from take off to break the dam wall causing the loss of 70% of Sydney’s water for years. It is so close there would be no time to mobilise the RAAF.

    The attraction for tourism in the west of Sydney is The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. UNESCO recognised in the convention that the tranquility (quiet) of the area enhanced the natural scenic values. Yet the plan is to put flight paths for every single incoming flight, and half of the outgoing flights at low altitudes over the World Heritage area. Destroy the World Heritage site and there is no scenic attraction in Western Sydney! Tourism will fall!

    This airport is not required and not essential to the development of the west. The cost of the health impacts alone would wipe out any economic benefits.

    This is a proposal from the 1950’s and we need 21st century infrastructure! We need High speed Rail and we need to open up the regional areas of NSW and all Australia.

  5. Paul

    A great article on a very important topic!

    It’s hard to imagine what our towns and cities we look like in 2041. However, if we don’t have a defined vision (of what we would like them to be) and a clear purpose in our strategic planning decision making we will not get there.

    Some excellent concerns raised in the article. I really commend the initiatives of other countries, which heavily invest in high quality and practical public transport infrastructure. We need to do the same – otherwise our well being will suffer.

    Any future plans must strongly promote public transport initiatives, bus lanes and bike lanes in addition to roads for private cars (which are also needed but not at the expense of world class public transport).

    Denis thanks for the article – I hope it encourages readers to provide much needed comment/consultation on the SEQPlan. If enough feedback is provided, it will be taken on board. Don’t lose hope and make sure anybody in the least bit interested has a say (by making a submission online) as this will affect everyone for many many years to come. Each person really can contribute to the shape of our future towns and cities by putting forward a submission.

  6. Leila Smith

    Interesting article Denis. The dollars we spend in infrastructure may seem a lot now but we gain so much for the community & the nation when we have suitable infrastructure to take us into the future. Economically it makes sense to spend billions as we will gain so much more from the development.
    Great article &’we need as much input as possible to get the best ideas fro the nation

  7. Case for More Funding

    The Community Engagement Report based on a survey of 1,004 people completely endorses the recommendations of this SEQRP Plan. These surveys were completed months before the Plan was published. Are the authors of the planning documents steering their own evaluation processes?

    What was the methodology used in this survey work? Which company undertook the consultation?

    Even in this flawed agenda setting, the issue of inadequate funding for infrastructure is the Community Engagement Report.

    The funding problems raised in this article need to be addressed and directed at the federal government which has cut-back on public transport infrastructure since 2013 in its two mean budgets.

    Local authorities like Moreton Bay, Logan. Ipswich, Toowoomba, Lockyer and disadvantaged parts of the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast need more federal funding support with the delivery of infrastructure and community support.

    The resources available to the state government have been pushed to the limit by a federal government that is keen on offering tax relief to families that are comfortably off and aloof from the problems of more disadvantaged growth areas along motorways which are parking lots at peak hours.

  8. vaughann722

    Good to see Denis effectively criticising the privatisation of infrastructure – which adds to the cost structures of entire economies. Privatisation will comprise a drag on Queensland’s ability to modernise its infrastructure and services as population increases. In larger population centres meanwhile – a growing population – with the gentrification of the inner suburbs – means government must step in to build infrastructure, jobs and services in the ‘peripheries’ – and indeed to create new economic and population centres. Arguably there should also be a federal tax for assistance local governments. That is: because overwhelmingly local governments depend on rates which can be relatively regressive. This would also help relatively undeveloped and disadvantaged areas improve their infrastructure and services with schools, public transport, roads, parks, recreation, and the whole gamut of social services.

  9. redfireonline

    I agree that the privatisation of the building of infrastructure – through “Market Led Proposals” is the main problem and barrier. In conditions of capitalist recession, the state reverts to it’s role of ensuring the profitability of private capital at the expense of working people. At a minimum, what is required is a workers’ movement which demands free, or at least affordable, public transport for all urban and rural areas, which is built and run by the public, not private, sector.

  10. Reg

    Marilyn I dont think that people grasp the significance of the coast between Sydney and Brisbane and what this will lead to in QLD. Certainly the ABBOTT government did not. The new international airport had the opportunity of being located where it was open space and opening up massive new economic development between Qld and NSW. With HSR an iconic development for the future. With government support a development of this magnitude and value would have received local superfund investment and private developer funding lifting Australia’s economy (a world class project.
    Mayor Greenhill at the Blue Mountains understands the problems as you have pointed out..The only justification I have seen for B Creek is that it will “stimulate business opportunities and create jobs”. No mention by government or local pushers/C of Commerce of the importance of international tourism – the real purpose of the airport.

  11. Harquebus

    “Growth” is not a plan, it is lunacy. It is means more destruction at an ever increasing rate and doubling the population will not improve the quality of life for anyone. Trust me, it will only make our problems that much worse.

    Increase energy production, grow populations, grow the economy, build massive amounts of energy guzzling infrastructure and pay off debt all while trying to reduce greenhouse gasses and the budget deficit…. Ha! They are dreaming up our worst nightmares.

    “there is no such thing as the Infrastructure Fairy that takes government spending and magically turns it into economic growth.”
    “many economists inside and outside of DC are more than happy to give the political class intellectual respectability under the new version of alchemy that is the “multiplier effect.””
    “Nevertheless, old lies about stimulus spending never quite seem to go away.”

    “For the last couple decades, however, growth in the industrialized world has slowed down. Europe and Japan have entered a long period of stagnation. The United States has seen various ups and downs, but the purchasing power of your wages really hasn’t budged since 1973.”

    Stop the lunacy, shrink our economies and
    Depopulate . . . or perish

    Depopulate … or perish

  12. Pat

    Let’s hope these issues become more of a priority for the community – forward sustainable planning makes life more enjoyable for everyone

  13. Maria

    Forward infrastructure planning will provide higher quality of life for SEQ residents in the long run. As well as improving the lifestyle of residents it will promote the region further as a tourism destination which leads to more jobs and investment in the region.

  14. James

    The NSW Planning Act 1979 (EPAA) has a more hands on approach to the funding of big ticket infrastructure items. Queenslanders can benefit from this style of commitment. It unfortunately has lapsed since Mike Baird came to power. Hoping that Queenslanders take not of our experiences in NSW and don’t gloat too much over the value of surplus budgets at a time when interest rates are really low. Now is the time to borrow and better still to form Infrastructure Funds as suggested in the article so that the corporate sector can invest in profitable government programmes to deliver community development and housing as achieved in places near Chatswood Shopping Centre on the North Shore Line where ToD Projects have been an immense success since the 1960s.

  15. Bernice Allen

    Need to get proactive now. SEQ population is equivalent to Western Sydney.
    Let’s get Australia into the 21st Century.

  16. captainTheo

    Very insightful article with some excellent points. Brisbane faces so many challenges in the next century with such population growth predicted.

  17. Abdul

    Great article Denis!

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