Infrastructure provisioning processes just aren’t sexy. The delivery of infrastructure brings with it shiny new toys, like trains, buses and ports, and great big train lines or freshly lain roads. But nobody likes looking at provisioning. It’s ugly, messy and confusing – a bit like staring into the proverbial sausage-making factory.
The problem is, it is also incredibly important, particularly if you have any interest in the growth of Perth and Western Australia more generally.
At the Property Council, we have recently conducted research into the State’s infrastructure provisioning processes. It has revealed that delayed or deferred investment in infrastructure can profoundly delay development and reduce economic growth across the state.
The problem that has become apparent is that portfolio specific strategic plans fail to demonstrate cross portfolio leadership, project governance or delivery within Government’s budget framework. The Western Australian government as a whole cannot put their policies into operation and meet objectives under the current provisioning process. Particularly now that funding is drying up, returns on infrastructure spending needs to be maximised.
The absence of a central infrastructure coordinating body to plan for infrastructure shortfalls means that whenever a development is proposed the proponent has to negotiate a raft of different infrastructure agencies and service providers. These bodies have competing interests and priorities, which often result in development delays and even deferrals. As a result, the infrastructure necessary to meet the government’s own infill targets under plans like Directions 2031 is not being delivered.
Together with the Australian Greens and the Australian Urban Design Research Centre, the Property Council of Australia put together ‘Transforming Perth’, a report which identified that in order to fulfil the goals of Directions 2031, infill should be focussed around Activity Corridors - the areas along Perth’s existing and future transit routes that link the Activity Centres together. By doing so, we can enhance the public transport connectivity between Perth’s Activity Centres. This would have the effect of transforming those areas into attractive, liveable and vibrant High Streets, featuring a mix of housing, employment opportunities and services. But, once again, this requires those future transit routes to be delivered in a way that provides certainty and stability for planners and developers.
The MAX light rail project is a perfect example of a plan to establish infrastructure addressing urban growth that has failed to materialise. Promised during the March 2013 State Election for construction to commence in 2016, light rail seemed certain enough that the private sector invested into this project and the land around planned transport nodes, with the intention of developing high-density residences. But with the three-year deferral of the project and doubts over its future, the highest and best use of that land for property development has changed from high density to medium density. This means that if light rail is to be delivered, the population density of those areas will reduce the viability of the project.
An example of effective infrastructure provisioning can be seen with Infrastructure NSW, an independent statutory body that identifies and prioritises the delivery of critical public infrastructure in New South Wales. Its ability to coordinate the infrastructure funding of the State and to monitor the delivery of major infrastructure projects creates certainty in an area which can otherwise suffer from an enormous lack of it.
Perth is in a classic scenario of ‘build it and they will come’, but without the necessary processes in place for the delivery of infrastructure and the shifting of its investment out of the political sphere, it will not and cannot happen.