The federal house of representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities has tabled a report calling for the development of a national plan of settlement that responds to the demographic and economic challenges of the next 50 years.
The report – called Building Up and Moving Out: Inquiry into the Australian Government’s role in the development of cities – states that, in their current form, the nation’s cities and regions will be unable to deal sustainably with the large-scale developments expected in the coming decades.
The Committee chair, John Alexander, said that population growth, urbanisation, the ageing of the population, and the transformation of the economy towards service and knowledge based industries are causing profound changes in Australia’s urban and regional landscapes.
“These are big challenges, and they require a new understanding of our cities and their relationship with surrounding regions,” Alexander said. “Managing these challenges requires a national vision—a national plan of settlement.”
A major component of the plan, according to the report, would be the development of high-speed rail links across the country, which would close the distance between distant regions and communities, and link them with employment opportunities, education and other services.
“This in turn would enable a more dispersed pattern of settlement as new population centres would still have access to employment and services,” the report states. “This would allow the development of polycentric cities, potentially creating a pattern of population dispersal without the attendant vices of urban sprawl.”
The report makes 37 recommendations addressing issues at a national, regional and local level across a broad range of subjects, including commitments by all government levels to a more sustainable model of urban transport, including the development of public transport networks that can achieve the goal of making Australia’s urban centres “30-minute cities”.
A further recommendation is to give priority to the development of a national freight network, with a view to creating “a strong system of multimodal integration based on dedicated freight nodes”. This would prioritise the movement of freight via rail, encourage the separate freight and passenger movements, and aim towards the development of dedicated high-speed passenger rail lines to relieve congestion of existing networks.
To direct the overall national plan, the report also recommends the creation of a Minister for Cities and National Settlement, with responsibility for the oversight of the national plan of settlement and housing, and a National Chief Planner, to provide independent expert advice on urban and regional planning and development.