The capital of Western Australia is the fourth largest city in the country but, according to recent research, Perth’s population explosion will either make it the best place in Australia to live or an expensive, sprawling city plagued by congestion.

Perth’s population reached 1.9 million in 2012 and, given the city’s rapid growth, it is estimated that population surpassed the 2 million mark in 2013.

The Committee for Perth – a high-profile think tank – said new projections that foresee 3.9 million people inhabiting the city by 2050 must play a major role in how the city should be planned.

Recent research carried out by the committee demonstrated that proper urban planning is crucial; they predict that when Perth’s population reaches 5 million people, the city’s urban footprint will nearly triple to an estimated 15,700 square kilometres.

Tokyo City

Perth’s urban sprawl has eclipsed that of Los Angeles and Tokyo combined.

They said the city’s footprint is expected to exceed that of Tokyo, but with only one seventh of Tokyo’s population. In addition, traffic congestion will raise journey times by an average of 180 per cent during the day and by 300 per cent during rush hours, meaning that a commuter currently spending one hour each way getting to and from work in peak periods will spend nearly three hours.

The research also predicted there will be four to five million vehicles in Perth, meaning the city would have 15 per cent more cars than are in London today, but 50 per cent fewer people. House prices will rise to more than 16 times the median income (up from 3.9 times in 2000 and 6.5 times today), an additional 30,636 hectares of bush land will need to be cleared, and more than three million people will live more than 20 kilometres from the CBD.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ mid-range growth projection, 5.5 million people will live in Perth by 2061, compared with 8.6 million people in Melbourne, 8.5 million in Sydney and 4.8 million in Brisbane.

Perth’s Population density

Perth’s Population density

“This is a game changer. It means that we potentially have less than 40 years to more than double the number of houses, roads, public transport, hospitals, schools and services than have been built in the region over the past 185 years,” Committee for Perth CEO Marion Fulker said. “As a region we have been blindsided by the rapid population growth in the region over the past decade. We have collectively continued operating on a business as usual pathway, when reality has been anything but.”

Fulker said growth does not need to be seen as a negative and that the future is still in Perth’s hands as it vies to maintain its status as one of the world’s most liveable cities. Developing an integrated public transport system across the metro area is the key to achieving a less car-dependent city, keeping Perth less congested, more productive and with a great quality of life without having to increase its footprint much.

Perth CBD

An aerial shot shows congestion hotspots in the Perth CBD and Northbridge.

Representatives of WA’s property development industry and the WA branch of the Urban Development Institute of Australia said it is crucial for employment opportunities to be created near the new communities that are fast growing to the north and south, saying the CBD may no longer be the city’s sole hub.

They said there are enormous opportunities for well-planned communities, rather than just suburbs that sprawl.

While the Department of Planning said its Directions 2031 and Beyond report, published in 2010, provided a planning framework for what the State needs to do to cope with the predicted population growth, a number of new planning documents will build on the strategy, including a new vision for Perth and Peel which anticipates a doubling of the population to 3.5 million people.

Three sub-regional structure plans for the northeast, northwest and south metropolitan and Peel regions are expected to be released for public comment in 2014.