The 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan highlights how infrastructure investment can be “the backbone” of high amenity, high liveability places as Australia recovers from COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know…
Infrastructure Australia’s 2021 plan, released on Friday, provides a 15-year roadmap to reform that leverages the federal government’s historic $110 billion infrastructure spend.
Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romilly Madew says the plan “is being delivered at a critical moment in our history”.
“We have seen significant investment in the infrastructure sector since the start of the pandemic, but to drive the next phase of the national recovery, we need to pursue reforms that unlock the full benefits of stimulus spending,” Madew says.
Key areas for reform outlined in the 327-page document include place-based planning, digitalisation and better use of data in decision-making, a broader focus on sustainability and resilience to deliver public value, and the transition to net zero emissions.
Property Council chief executive Ken Morrison says the plan “throws down the gauntlet” to governments planning infrastructure in our cities.
“The recipe is to use infrastructure as the backbone to create high amenity, high liveability places across our cities. You don’t create great cities by disconnecting infrastructure planning from urban outcomes and the plan recognises this.”
Morrison welcomes the plan’s focus on leveraging the built environment – which is responsible for a quarter of Australia’s emissions – to improve sustainability and resilience.
“The infrastructure plan proposes a range of practical measures to encourage buildings to become more energy efficient and make a big contribution to the challenge of reaching net zero emissions by 2050,” he says.
Ainsley Simpson, chief executive officer of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council, agrees.
“We are very pleased to see sustainability and resilience valued as strategic priorities and called out on page three of the plan, rather than buried one hundred pages deep. This speaks volumes about Infrastructure Australia’s priorities and the future direction of infrastructure investment in this country.”
Ethos Urban offers eight lessons for infrastructure investment
The plan underscores the need for industry to “demonstrate best practice in the infrastructure sector, support the value of reform and identify opportunities to implement change”.
Ethos Urban is currently providing land use planning services for Australia’s biggest public transport project, Sydney Metro. Chief executive officer Mark Stefanac says lessons learnt on this project – and many others – shows “how government investment in infrastructure, in particular rail infrastructure, can unlock opportunities”.
Among Ethos Urban’s recommendations are:
- Plan with people at the forefront: This means considering both the customers of the infrastructure project and the local community. “Critically, we must also consider how the future community will evolve with the infrastructure.”
- Deliver a community dividend: This will include both physical benefits – such as access to new public open space – and the less-tangible, like improved connectivity.
- Focus on place: “Place is what sets one community apart from the other, making it distinct and valuable,” Stefanac says. “Place must be authentic and derive from its natural and built elements.” That doesn’t mean a place must stay static. “Rather, a well-considered plan for renewal can weave existing attributes into a vision to guide subsequent planning, design and development activities.”
- Lead with the public domain: While public domain is most often associated with outdoor spaces such as parks, it also extends to community facilities, libraries, event arenas, and even cafés and restaurants. “The key is to encourage vibrancy through a range of uses – and to prioritise those that bring people and activity,” Stefanac adds.
- Embed design excellence: “It has been proven time and again that a well-designed built environment can have a real and positive effect on our mood.” Design excellence can be as simple as creating places that capture the sun and shelter people from the wind, or buildings with good access to breezes, daylight and views of the outdoors.
- Pursue sustainability: As infrastructure projects often cut across more than one site, Stefanac notes the greater opportunities to pursue leading sustainability initiatives. While precinct-wide initiatives like water-recycling or embedded networks are obvious opportunities, Stefanac says the best infrastructure projects apply social and economic lenses too. “Renewal can deliver a greater choice of homes in accessible locations, helping to drive down housing costs, for example.”
- Engage and iterate: Best practice infrastructure planning and design allows meaningful opportunities for people to shape the future of their community. “Enough time should be bult into the process to enable feedback to be properly considered, which may result in several iterations of a plan before it is finally endorsed,” Stefanac observes.
- Be bold when it matters: “Don’t be afraid to be bold when it matters,” is Stefanac’s final piece of advice. “Rail infrastructure is built to last. Look over a long-time horizon. While there may be some short-term opposition to change, what is planned now is likely to be around for another 50 or so years. Ask: Is this the best outcome for 2071?”