New thinking is needed across the board from urban planning to construction techniques if the government’s plan for Melbourne to 2050 is to be delivered successfully, the boss of the organisation charged with making the plan happen says.
Metropolitan Planning Authority chief executive officer Peter Seamer says delivering on Plan Melbourne – a 30-plus year vision for the Melbourne Metropolitan area involving large scale infrastructure upgrades, urban renewal precincts and nearby regional commerce and employment centres unveiled by the government in October – would be challenging for all involved, with the magnitude of the challenge being underscored by recent ABS projections that the city’s population would reach six million by 2029 (up from 4.3 billion now) and nearly 10 million in the next 50 years.
Seamer, who has been chief of the MPA (previously known as the Growth Areas Authority) since 2007, says this will not be achieved by old ways of ‘making dormitory suburbs’ and ‘plonking in an inconvenient building in an existing area’ but rather by getting everyone involved on the same page and building proper towns and planning effective infill sites.
“To me, the really big challenge is we are just not going to get there unless we are able to have different more progressive ways of thinking,” he said. “To some extent, [in the past] I think we’ve been hampered by our thinking not being progressive enough across a lot of areas. So we really have to rise to the challenge in doing things better than we’ve done them in the past. I think that applies across the board whether it is a statutory planner about the way they go about their business or whether it’s someone building a building – trying new techniques and building forms.”
“It’s about being one step ahead of the game [in terms of planning] so that when someone wants to develop a building they actually do it in a context, so it’s easier for them to build the building, but most importantly easier to get it right because we have a plan for the area that is being developed.”
Seamer says Melbourne is different than it was in 1950 and can no longer operate around a mono-dimensional paradigm of simply bringing increasing numbers of people into the city to work each day. He says a large part of the answer revolves around satellite cities and urban and nearby regional employment clusters – not only the ‘state of cities’ outlined in the government’s plan (Bacchus Marsh, Ballan, Broadford, Kilmore, Warragul-Drouin and Wonthaggi) but also clusters within Melbourne such as Monash, La Trobe (medical and university precinct), East Werribee and Sunshine.
But he cautions these have to be properly planned, with Docklands serving as a positive example.
“They have to be real centres of business” he says. “You can’t just put an office next to a supermarket and think KPMG are going to move in,” he said.
Asked about the role of the construction industry in delivering on the plan, Seamer says builders are the people who ‘actually make things happen’ and the planning system must be set up to enable the industry to create better communities. He adds that a strong and profitable industry is essential if the vision is to be realised.
“We need a strong effective building and development industry,” he said. “And I think our job is to make sure it is easier for them to build [and] that the planning system helps create better communities. We aim to make the winner the person living in the house or running the particular business that someone’s built.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the final output- great suburbs, great business areas and the challenge is how we get there. We’ve got our job to do and the building industry has their job to do. Hopefully we can play a major role in helping the industry to prosper and create a better City.”