The failure of Victoria’s last government to give sufficient consideration to the infrastructure needs of the Fishermans Bend area prior to approval could provide many vital lessons for those concerned with Australia’s future urban development.
According to Dr. Gideon Aschwanden, Lecturer in Urban Analytics at the University of Melbourne’s School of Design, the lack of adequate infrastructure planning for the Fishermans Bend area will likely have a range of dire implications for future residents as well as the functioning and efficiency of other parts of the inner-city.
“The development hasn’t been thought through at all – so infrastructure is coming after the fact, which is the biggest problem for the whole area,” said Aschwanden.
“The long term effects of this will definitely include housing costs, and also externalities like road congestion which are not included in calculations, and whose costs will incurred by everyone who is trying to enter the city from the south and has to spend an extra 10 minutes each day in traffic.
“Long-term health impacts are another externality not included in the accounting model that all of us will likely have to shoulder. Using a car because you don’t have an alternative leads to deterioration of physical and mental health, whose effects are borne by society as a whole.”
In addition to hard infrastructure assets, Aschwanden notes that key amenities have also been overlooked in current plans for Fishermans Bend. This will have major impact on services and quality of life for residents.
“We always think about infrastructure as roads and public transport, but there are other forms of infrastructure we need, like retirement houses and kindergartens. Additional amenities for families need to be there,” he said.
“If you have a master plan requiring three bedroom apartments, that means families, so you also need kindergartens and high schools, but these aren’t in the master plan at all.”
Insufficient consideration of much-needed amenities isn’t a problem unique to Fishermans Bend, but one which affects many other parts of urban Australia tapped for rapid expansion.
“In the growth areas, important amenities are not being provided. Maternity wards for example – they are still centralised in the city, while the births are mainly taking place in the growth areas,” said Aschwanden.
“This isn’t rock science – there is population change that you can foresee, and certain needs that are highly visible if you do simple statistics.
“If you are building cheap housing it is clear that there are to be young families moving in there – five years down the track they are going to need kindergartens and so on. But right now there’s one kindergarten in Docklands, next to a major intersection.”
The lack of sufficient advance planning for Fishermans Bend will also significantly compound the cost and difficulty of putting infrastructure in place once it’s needed.
“Costs for exactly the same infrastructure are going to increase over time. If you build it after development, the costs are higher than beforehand, because the cost of construction, the cost of the land, goes up the further down the road you go,” said Aschwanden.
It will also make it far more difficult to implement innovative and highly effective forms of infrastructure financing such as land value capture, which enable developers to tap into the abundant funds provided by anticipated gains in property prices.
“The idea behind land value capture schemes is you build the infrastructure, and then you cover the costs by taxing the land value increase so that can build more infrastructure subsequently,” he said. “But doesn’t work if infrastructure comes after the fact – land value capture has to be done beforehand, and has to be incorporated into any kind of approvals issued.”
Given that the haste and lack of foresight that characterised the approval of Fishermans Bend may be due to suasion by developers as well as the pressure to get things done that short-term political cycles can create, Aschwanden advocates the creation of a state planning body that can ensure the coherence and stability of future infrastructure development.
“There should be a planning authority that is not bound by politics at the state level – Victoria is big enough. It’s a bit of a mess right now, and it’s hard to envisage any planning scheme going through without multiple interventions over time,” he said.
“Infrastructure is a long-term investment, and the benefits are long-term as well. So have to think about this in much longer timeframe – perhaps 50 years or 100 years. In just 20 years however, you will likely see four different governments assume office.
“A state-level planning authority would provide consistency, as well as give developers the planning security that they need to build high-rises over a five to 10-year period.”
Aschwanden also advocates far greater patience and restraint when it comes to such ambitious redevelopment schemes for urban areas.
“When you’re talking about the redevelopment of an area more than five times the size of Docklands, we’re talking 40,000 dwellings, Docklands was 5,300 dwellings and took 20 years, while Fishermans Bend is going to take half the time,” he said.
“There’s a lot of stress there, and nobody really knows what’s going to happen. Developers might want to make their profits now and tomorrow, but it’s not about that – it’s about making something that is sustainable for the next 20, 50 or 100 years.”