Aurizon train on Queensland Rain Network. Photo: Aurizon

Miners brace for Cyclone Debbie outages

Queensland miners are facing the potential of extended infrastructure outages, with the impact of Cyclone Debbie on mines, ports and railways in the region set to reveal itself in coming days.

According to multiple reports, several coal mines have already closed in the region, along with major coal export terminals along the coast.

Aurizon has ceased deliveries to the bulk ports at Abbot Point, Dalrymple Bay and Hay Point.

According to AAP, Aurizon said the Central Queensland Coal Network remained open, but trains had been stowed, or were being stowed, on the Goonyella and Newlands systems.

It is unknown at this point how long the infrastructure will remain shut – and that will of course depend on the fallout from the cyclone.

Cyclone Yasi, which hit North Queensland in 2011, resulted in major shutdowns while the mine, port and rail infrastructure was repaired, impacting around 20 million tonnes of coal production, or US$3 billion worth in today’s prices.

UBS analyst Daniel Morgan recalled to the ABC how the water, not the wind is the main threat to infrastructure.

“Prolonged problems would tend to be big, wholesale flooding of pits,” he was quoted as saying. “That’s what you don’t want to see.

“If you see a little bit of rail and port damage, those can be fixed more readily.

“[Yasi] was a bigger storm and I would also say that it was associated with a more prolonged rainfall event across the east coast of Queensland at that time.”

Carmichael coal map. Photo: Shutterstock / Graphic: Adani

Adani rail protest triggers green tax break debate

Federal resources minister Matt Canavan has called for changes to legislation that grants tax-deductable status to all donations to environmental lobby groups.

Canavan reportedly spoke to the AFR this week, noting that while individuals are limited to $1,500 in tax deductions on donations to political parties each year, there is no such limitation on donations to green groups, despite the role they play in the political sphere.

“Because these are unrestricted, you could donate $1 million and get a $1 million tax deduction,” Canavan was quoted as saying.

“It’s the ultimate form of negative gearing.”

His comments came after a major protest at Parliament House last week by the Stop Adani Alliance, which is led by former Greens leader Bob Brown.

The group was calling for an inquiry into a proposal to loan Adani $1 billion in taxpayer money to help build a railway line for the miner’s planned Carmichael coal mine in Queensland.

Canavan reportedly criticised the protestors, saying they were “fly-in-fly-out,” and didn’t live anywhere near the region where the project will be built.

“I believe there should be tax deductions for environmental organisations because most of them do very very good work,” he was quoted as saying.

“But there is a small minority that is engaged in political activism and there’s a real question whether government tax deductions should go to political activities.”

Iron ore market wobbles

The spot price of iron ore has dropped significantly in the last six weeks, but experts are split over the short- to medium-term outlook for the major commodity.

Iron ore soared to almost US$95 a tonne in February, but fell to as low as US$81 this week.

Some analysts are figuring this is the end of the recent uptick, with China’s demand slowing as it deals with an oversupply in the steel sector.

But Credit Suisse is said to be more optimistic about the short-term outlook for the commodity.

A report from Credit Suisse analyst Matthew Hope was quoted by Fairfax.

“Falling futures caused uncertainty for steel mills and they stopped buying iron ore,” he reportedly wrote.

“This buyers’ strike caused iron ore to fall.

“But physical steel has declined only 3% because construction season is underway and demand is real.”

Hope reported six-month rebar futures in Shanghai had fallen 13% in recent days, but physical rebar prices had only dropped 3%.

“It is sentiment towards steel rather than demand that changed,” he was quoted as saying, “causing speculators to unwind positions.

“Iron ore has reflected this change in sentiment. After an almost one-to-one movement of Tangshan billet prices and iron ore, iron ore fell 8% in nine days against 4% for billet.”

Hope reportedly said China’s steel inventory is “relatively depleted,” in contrast to the country’s iron ore stocks.

“Chine has strong and predictable seasonality in its steel inventory. Traders build up stocks in winter months and sell them down across the rest of the year.

“In the first ten days of March, China’s stocks were low at 30 million tonnes, about 15% below normalised levels for this time of year. Mill production is needed.”

Sidelining planners makes for poorer urban policy, and future generations will pay the price

Urban planners have been blamed for a lot of things, including higher housing costs. But the solution is to refine the process, not sideline the good residential and transport planning that makes cities safe and liveable, Jenny McArthur writes.

Informed citizens are essential to support good planning and infrastructure decisions. Marginalising urban planning gets us nowhere.

Modern urban planning first came about to improve industrial cities that had become unsafe, unhealthy and essentially unliveable. However, new policies in Australia and New Zealand view planning as a cause of urban problems, not a solution. Both treat urban planning as a hindrance, which supposedly slows down economic growth and is the main reason for unaffordable housing. The Conversation

But what might this approach mean for future development of Antipodean cities? While urban planning may have fallen short of its goals over recent decades, policy that marginalises urban planning exposes us to long-term social and environmental risks.

Cities in Australia and New Zealand do face particular challenges: both countries are highly urbanised, 89% and 86% respectively. A closer look at land use patterns and infrastructures show they are mostly suburban – closer to Houston than Hong Kong. Therefore, urban policy faces the challenge of governing suburbia.

Why did urban planning fall out of favour?

Several underlying factors explain this aversion to planning.

First, many urban areas developed under the current planning system haven’t produced a very liveable environment. It is difficult to make a case for the value of planning with few good examples. In some cases this isn’t bad planning; rather, traffic engineering has taken precedence.

Many areas of Auckland, for instance, are designed in such a way that residents have little choice but to drive everywhere. They are unsafe for children or seniors to navigate. And vast amounts of space are allocated to parking for private vehicles.

This is the cumulative result of decades of infrastructure decision-making that prioritises private vehicle movement over safer and more efficient public transport. Residents are living with the consequences of this, and current policy risks more of the same for future residents.

New shared spaces, cycle lanes and frequent transit services are a dramatic improvement. However, greater change is needed to make an impact on everyday life for those who live and work outside the city centre.

Second, delays in planning approvals are notorious for adding significant cost and uncertainty to property development. But inefficient delivery of planning services should not be confused with overly stringent planning rules.

Planning rules are intended to mitigate environmental damage and improve the quality of development. Rather than getting rid of planning, delays can be reduced through better resourcing, training and management of planning departments.

Also, approvals are only one step in delivering new housing. Fast-tracked consenting in Auckland’s special housing areas resulted in 30,000 consented dwellings, but only 1,300 new homes were built over almost three years.

This shows that other factors slow down the pace of development. These include capacity in the construction sector, local construction labour and delays due to land banking.

Putting affordability claims to the test

Poor urban planning is claimed to be the primary cause of unaffordable housing. It is said to be linked to higher house prices and lower economic performance.

Evidence to support these claims shows a correlation – but not a causal link – between the restrictiveness of planning regulations and housing affordability.

The simple correlation ignores other factors driving house prices: speculative investment behaviour, incentives for land banking, record-low mortgage rates and strong cultural biases toward home ownership.

Looking to land supply as the primary policy lever to fix this may do little to moderate house prices. It also overlooks more important causes.

Urban expansion also has implications for transport: it is expensive and inefficient to leave transport authorities playing catch-up to serve new growth areas.

The politics of growth further complicate expansion of land supply and tend to distribute new growth haphazardly. Most residents agree that cities need to allow for future growth, but deciding where this should go is contentious. Recent growth in New Zealand and Australian cities has been accommodated mostly in the city centre and at the urban fringe.

Only a small share of growth is in existing suburbs. Suburban residents (or at least a vocal contingent) often oppose new growth. This is unsurprising since intensification counters the very reason for living in the suburbs – more space and fewer people.

Regardless, urban policy needs to acknowledge the political tensions in accommodating growth.

Good planning involves citizens

National urban policy is important to manage land use and infrastructure differently in cities. Policies don’t have to be prescriptive. They can also enable local authorities to govern better with greater devolution of power and fundraising capabilities.

Scaling back urban planning is an understandable but disappointingly short-term response. In many cases planning hasn’t delivered what it promised. Measures to reduce delays and improve the quality of the built environment are needed. However, policy that simply reduces the role of planning may result in significant long-term costs.

Such an approach risks environmental damage, as well as uncoordinated land and transport development. The next generation living in our cities will pay for it.

Informed citizens are essential to support good planning and infrastructure decisions. For the general public, however, local regulations on urban planning, infrastructure and environmental quality are painfully dull. But they are also fundamental in shaping your everyday life: where you can afford to live, your daily commute, and the chance of air pollution shortening your lifespan.

For those without time to go through lengthy consultation documents and plans, local advocacy groups are leading the way to translate these concisely to the public. Auckland’s Generation Zero is a good example. This organisation is advocating for inter-generational equity and environmental sustainability in local planning and transport, with targeted campaigns on important projects and planning decisions.

Negotiating the trade-offs and politics of urban growth is always a challenge for policy, but quality public engagement is crucial to build cities that are liveable, affordable and environmentally sustainable over the long term.

Jenny McArthur is a Postdoctoral Research Associate, City Leadership Laboratory: Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy, UCL. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

Architect GHDWoodhead names transport boss

Design practice GHDWoodhead has named former NSW Government transport planner James Hadaway as its new lead for transport facilities design.

A release from the group on Wednesday said Hadaway has 25 years’ experience in the transport sector, including extensive experience reviewing designs on behalf of Sydney Trains in a number of areas.

He has worked on planning for the Olympics in Sydney and Athens, as well as the Asian Games in Qatar, demonstrating an understanding of how to move people safely and efficiently through transport infrastructure, the firm said.

“We are delighted to welcome James, who brings an incredible understanding of how design can realise the vision of transport operators while creating an inviting experience for passengers,” national practice leader Michael Hegarty said.

“Not only are transport facilities highly complex projects in their own right, they are frequently the catalyst for the urban renewal of surrounding precincts.”

Hadaway’s key project in his former role at the NSW Government was with the $2.3 billion Epping to Chatswood Rail Link in Sydney.

He also worked on the South West Rail Link and Sydney Metro Northwest.

“Efficient and effective transportation systems are the lifeblood of a city,” Hadaway said.

“Urban environments with good transport networks thrive and attract more investment and prosperity, those with lacking systems generally fall into decline.

“Careful planning in the delivery phase of the project is crucial to create a great transport system that in turn enables a more liveable city.”

Hadaway said the integration of architecture and engineering was “the main draw card” for him to join GHDWoodhead.

“Architecture must work hand in glove with engineering to produce quality passenger experiences,” he reasoned.

“We see this more and more with clients setting up integrated offices.”

Carmichael coal map. Photo: Shutterstock / Graphic: Adani

Adani criticism from the rich will hurt the poor, lobby group says

The most recent activism against Adani’s planned Carmichael Coal project has labelled “misguided” by a vocal mining industry lobby group.

A group of wealthy Australians including former test cricket greats Greg and Ian Chappell last week launched a public campaign looking to derail the multi-billion-dollar mine, port and rail project, which will supply energy coal to Indian power plants.

But the Australian Mines and Metals Association has criticised the petition, saying it ignores the major economic and societal benefits.

“There are a number of well-known Australians among the signatories to this petition,” AMMA boss Steve Knott said on March 17.

“No-one begrudges them their successes and any wealth that may have come as a result, but it must be remembered that the Adani project will provide enormous benefits to people and communities who are doing it much tougher.”

Knott said the project will inject roughly $21 billion into the Queensland economy, and provide around 10,000 jobs during construction.

On top of this, he said, Carmichael coal will end up supplying energy to India, a country which still has 300 million people living without electricity.

“This project has been through years of delays, challenges and vexatious litigation by misinformed activist groups,” Knott said.

“It is subject to more than 200 strict environment conditions that will ensure no impact on the Great Barrier Reef, and has had bi-partisan support from Liberal and Labor state and federal governments.

“It is time to drop the misguided activism that fails to consider the facts around the Carmichael Coal project and to support Adani in getting this significantly positive development off the ground.”

Macquarie moves closer to Sydney Metro hub project

The world’s leading public precincts will guide the design of a new metro transport and business hub at Martin Place, under an advanced proposal from Macquarie, the NSW State Government has confirmed.

The NSW Government last week said it was ready to negotiate a final binding offer with Macquarie Group to deliver the Sydney Metro Martin Place Precinct.

Macquarie’s proposal would see the major CBD development delivered in time for the opening of Stage 2 of the Sydney Metro rail project in 2024, the government said.

Macquarie Capital executive director Will Walker said the design would integrate the redeveloped Martin Place station into a significant business precinct.

“Integrating the station and over-station design and delivery allows for better use of space and natural light, and allows for features that improve convenience for station users,” Walker said.

“It would also enable us to offer an intuitive design that would offer customers ease of navigation throughout the station precinct.”

The design would include Macquarie’s Martin Place headquarters, a move the firm said would allow for “a number of enhancements,” including an underground public concourse.

Macquarie said the design would provide pedestrians with an all-weather walkway from Martin Place to Hunter Street, with the additional potential to connect through to O’Connell Street.

Walker said the proposal had been “strongly influenced” by the City of Sydney’s 2030 plan.

“We also looked at the landmark transportation hubs around the world,” he added, “which are thoughtfully-designed spaces that enable people to seamlessly transition from commute, to work, to leisure.”

The plan has advanced to the third and final stage of the NSW Government’s unsolicited proposal program.

While Stage 3 allows for negotiation of a final binding offer, Macquarie noted that neither the group nor the Government were obligated to proceed with the proposal at this stage.

Melbourne Tram. Photo:

What a difference a month makes, but Victoria can still do more to get housing and planning right

To meet the needs of lower-income households, housing should be both affordable and located near public transport and other services, Katrina Raynor and Carolyn Whitzman write.

The need for more affordable housing close to public transport and services is acute in Melbourne. Inner Melbourne has experienced a 74% increase in rough sleeping in the past two years. This is perhaps the most visible outcome of the lack of affordable housing options. Only 1% of advertised rental properties in the metropolitan area are affordable for households reliant on government assistance. The Conversation

Buying or renting in the well-serviced inner and middle suburbs is increasingly out of reach for households on low and moderate incomes. A month ago, one of us wrote an article in The Conversation bemoaning the lack of government leadership on this issue. In the 15 months since its election, the Victorian government had not delivered promised revisions to the Plan Melbourne metropolitan strategy or an affordable housing strategy.

What a difference a month makes. It is almost as if some government leaders read the article. Every week (or to be more precise, weekend) since then has delivered a major policy announcement.

Now that Plan Melbourne and Homes For Victorians have been delivered, it is only fair that we provide a preliminary evaluation of how well these strategies meet the housing needs of Victorians on moderate, low and very low incomes.

These documents remain vague about the definition of “affordable housing”. They also do not designate various income groups. We have taken the liberty of defining these groups based on median income brackets.

Moderate-income households

We define moderate income as 80-120% of area median income – about A$68,500-$102,500 a year. In this group, first home buyers appear to be the biggest winners in Plan Melbourne and Homes For Victorians.

The Victorian government will waive stamp duty for first home buyers on homes worth up to $600,000 and taper stamp duty concessions on homes above that price. This is set to cost the government $851 million over four years and save the average buyer $8,000.

However, if previous first home buyer incentives have taught us anything, this is likely to inflate the cost of cheaper dwellings without delivering affordability benefits.

The government is also offering a shared equity program. This allows first home buyers to co-purchase their home with the government. The initiative is intended to support households that qualify for a bank loan but need help saving a deposit. Western Australia has a similar program, which has helped more than 1,500 households buy homes to date.

Low-income households

This group earns 50%-80% of area median income, in the range of $42,500-$68,500 a year.

As exciting as the above options are for some first home buyers, they are out of reach for low-income households that earn between $800 and $1,300 per week. These households are unlikely to qualify for social housing but struggle to afford market rent and purchase prices.

This group, which includes many service and trades workers and their families, need a steady stream of new, appropriately sized and affordable market rental options. However, neither the Housing for Victorians nor Plan Melbourne talks specifically about a new scheme to replace the National Rental Affordability Scheme, which the current federal government abandoned in 2013.

It is absolutely true, as the affordable housing strategy states, that federal policies like capital gains tax exemptions and negative gearing favour investors over first-time and other resident homebuyers. However, state government policies can have an impact on scaling up a rental housing market.

In other cities with similar housing affordability crises, such as Vancouver, New York and London, a combination of expedited approvals, development levy abatements, inclusionary zoning and other mechanisms have helped develop new below-market rental units. Located near public transport and services, these are usually provided at particular price points and kept affordable in perpetuity.

Very-low-income households

These households have income of less than 50% of the area median, or under $42,500. They are likely to be the primary beneficiaries of significant new social housing funding and development.

The Victorian government has set up a $1 billion fund to support new social housing. The government will work with community housing providers to deliver social housing through new construction and rental subsidies. This is estimated to deliver up to 2,200 new housing units over the next five years.

This funding injection is badly needed: Victoria has the lowest proportion of social housing stock in Australia.

The state government is also increasing funding, or providing new funding, for a Family Violence Housing Blitz, support for transitions out of homelessness, and rooming house renovation.

A new $1 billion loan guarantee fund for social housing providers will be linked to a shared social housing rent registry. This will make life a little easier for the 33,000 households on the public housing waiting list. They currently have to separately register with up to a dozen other community housing providers.

Plan Melbourne has identified a policy direction to use surplus government land to develop social and affordable housing. Launch Housing and VicRoad’s proposal for Ballarat Road in Maribyrnong offer an example of how these partnerships might work. Plan Melbourne also focuses on increasing the supply of social housing through regeneration and intensification of existing public housing sites.

However, the strategy does not recommend a level of social housing as a proportion of total existing and new housing stock. To provide for all households now eligible for social housing, Victoria would require 76,000 more social housing units. By 2051, that figure is projected to increase to 140,000

Furthermore, Plan Melbourne projects a need for 1.6 million new homes in the next 30 years. That’s over 50,000 new homes a year. Of these, 5,000 would be required to meet the needs of low-income seniors, people with intellectual and physical disabilities, female-headed households escaping family violence, and others who simply cannot compete in the private rental market.

Now to make these plans work

Plan Melbourne and Homes For Victorians provide several directions that could benefit all Victorians. Welcome aspects include greater emphasis on public transport networks, greater diversity of housing options, 20-minute neighbourhoods and practical mechanisms to get more housing closer to public transport and services.

The plans also make very encouraging noises about strengthening the role of planning in helping to deliver social and affordable housing. This includes overcoming the legislative and definitional barriers to the effectiveness of mechanisms like density bonuses or inclusionary housing.

The continuing lack of formal definition of affordable housing is a fundamental flaw in Victorian affordable housing policy that remains unsolved by Homes For Victorians and Plan Melbourne.

Plan Melbourne and Homes for Victorians together provide some welcome directions towards more well-located and affordable housing. But the previous Victorian planning strategy, Melbourne 2030, foundered in implementation.

Victoria will have to link infrastructure improvements to specific affordable housing targets in well-serviced areas. And the government should continue its work on value capture and development contributions to nail down implementation of its long-awaited affordable housing strategy.


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Katrina Raynor is Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Transforming Housing Project, University of Melbourneand Carolyn Whitzman is Professor of Urban Planning, University of MelbourneThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

EIS process to begin as two Inland Rail sections granted special status

Two key sections of the proposed Inland Rail line have been declared coordinated projects by Queensland’s coordinator-general, in a move the state’s development minister says will give the project a smoother path to fruition.

Queensland state development minister Anthony Lynham on March 17 said the coordinator-general had provided the special status to a 26-kilometre, $1.35 billion section between Gowrie and Helidon, and a 47-kilometre, $1 billion section between Helidon and Calvert.

Lynham said the move meant the state “can now efficiently coordinate the environmental assessment process” for the two key sections of the 1,710-kilometre Inland Rail route.

“These two adjoining dual-gauge sections could each generate 1,800 jobs during their four-year construction phase starting in 2020 and 700 jobs for the 50 years of forecast operation for the entire program,” the minister said.

The Inland Rail project is split into 13 sections that cover the full route through regional Victoria, central-west New South Wales, and south Queensland.

Certain sections are existing track which will be upgraded, while other sections are to be new construction.

The Gowrie to Helidon section will require 26 kilometres of new dual gauge track to be built.

The Helidon to Calvert section will require 47 kilometres of new dual gauge track, with roughly half of to be built within existing rail corridors.

“This project could be a real boon to Queensland industry, for both growers and manufacturers,” Lynham said.

“However both of these sections will require rigorous planning and engineering to address the potential impacts of flooding in the region.”

Federal infrastructure and transport minister Darren Chester said the coordinated project declarations would trigger the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement.

“Shortly, the Queensland Office of the Coordinator will release a draft Terms of Reference which will be open for public comment,” Chester said.

“This is another good opportunity for the community to have their say on the Inland Rail project.”

The minister also noted the second phase of market testing for delivery of the project was close to finalisation.

“After the market testing has concluded I’m keen to see construction commence sooner rather than later,” Chester said.

“We believe in the future of regional Australia, and the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project to deliver benefits today and 100 years from now.”

CAF AM class train Auckland. Photo: Creative Commons / Dc4444

Young ideas sought for NZ conference

The Australasian Railway Association is calling for rail professionals under 30 to submit their ideas for the Young Rail Professionals Pitching Competition at the New Zealand Rail conference in Auckland later this year.

Eligible professionals are invited to submit their ideas by May 5.

The ARA’s NZ Rail 2017 event will take place on June 27 and 28, 2017.

Successful applicants will be flown to Auckland and given two nights’ accommodation, a complimentary pass to attend the conference, and a ticket to the ARA’s NZ Rail Dinner on July 27.

The ARA is seeking concepts that target any aspect of rail, including the technical and engineering, customer service, strategic business planning, marketing, and technological sectors.

Entries must be 400-600 words and include a concept title, name and contact details, the instution and qualification entrants have underway or completed, the issue being addressed and the idea itself.

Entries will be judged by the organising committee, and successful applicants will be announced by the end of May.

Visit the official NZ Rail website for more information.