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Planning for Australia’s Booming Population

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Australia’s population is set to explode by 11.8 million people by 2046, according to a recent report by Infrastructure Australia’s Future Cities.

Around 75 percent of this growth will occur in major capitals, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. To put that into perspective, that is the same as adding a city the size of Canberra each year over the next 30 years.

Australia’s population is set to explode by 11.8 million people by 2046. 

It goes without saying that growing at this pace will change the very fabric of the country with Sydney and Melbourne becoming cities similar to London, New York and Hong Kong. 

Coupled with our ageing population, climate change, the changing nature of our work environment and rapid technological advances, Infrastructure Australia argues it is imperative we plan for our future. Should our significant capital cities expand upwards or outwards.

With that in mind, The Future Cities Report outlines scenario plans for two of Australia’s cities, Melbourne and Sydney, to track which one would work best in terms of transport performance, access to jobs, schools, hospitals and green space. 

Assuming common population and employment growth totals within consistent metropolitan boundaries, The Future Cities Report examined six different scenarios (three each for Sydney and Melbourne) and asked: 

  • Should we seek to locate jobs in a small number of large centres or distribute them more evenly across the metropolitan area?

  • What mix of modes and network structure is best suited to meet the needs of a larger city?

As a result of the report, Infrastructure Australia recommends the Commonwealth Government establish a framework of incentives to improve the productivity, liveability, and affordability of our most significant cities.

“Australia's cities are the powerhouses of our economy, and they need to be a national priority of government,” Infrastructure Australia CEO, Philip Davies says.

He goes on to say: “Asia’s global middle class as well as our own rapidly growing population will unlock new economic frontiers for Australia, but we need to position our cities to take advantage of this historic opportunity.”

"Asia’s global middle class as well as our own rapidly growing population will unlock new economic frontiers for Australia, but we need to position our cities to take advantage of this historic opportunity.” 

The scenario analysis concluded well-planned cities, where the location of jobs, homes and their supporting infrastructure networks are coordinated to maximise accessibility and the comfort of life, will ultimately deliver the best outcomes for Australian communities. 

The three scenarios modelled for the cities were Expanded Low-Density (People live further away from work), Centralised High-Density (People move closer to jobs),  and a Rebalanced Medium-Density (Under-utilised areas are developed) scenario.

In Melbourne, the Expanded Low-Density scenario assumed 40 per cent of population growth in greenfield areas, and identified the need to expand public transport to connect those in outer regions better. The Centralised High-Density scenario modelled only 20 percent of the population growth in greenfield areas and expanded the CBD to take in the inner suburbs. This option favoured developing transport infrastructure around existing transport nodes and tram lines. The Rebalanced Medium-Density scenario, on the other hand, modelled 30 per cent of the population growth in greenfield areas, with a focus on medium density growth in the west of the city. The expansion to the West, However, would require an upgraded transport infrastructure.

The scenario planning found the Centralised High-Density scenario performed best across all key indicators and had the best accessibility for public transport overall, but is worst for private vehicles, particularly in Western Melbourne. It also found the Expanded Low-Density scenario has the lowest aggregate accessibility scores of the three scenarios, but would improve access in Melbourne’s west and south-east.

In Sydney, the Expanded Low-Density Scenario assumed 30 per cent of the population growth in greenfield areas, with the current economic centre being the CBD, and a smaller but significant one at Parramatta. It recognised the need to expand public transport links to reach those in outlying areas.

The Centralised High-Density Scenario created dual CBDs in Sydney and Parramatta, and better use of transport hubs by building around existing nodes. The Rebalanced Medium-Density Scenario modelled 20 per cent of population growth in greenfield areas, with a focus on medium density spread more evenly across the city around an upgraded transport infrastructure. This scenario would see the entire metropolitan area undergo new development, rather than it being localised to a series of high-density precincts.

Overall, the Centralised High-Density scenario performed best across most of the key indicators. Proximity to jobs in Sydney directly impacts the distribution of economic success across the city. Areas that are closer or have good access to job-rich centres, such as the inner-city, eastern, and northern suburbs, have the highest income levels. Areas with lower average incomes are those where the resident workforce is larger than the number of jobs available locally. Residents in Sydney’s west and south-west (further away from job centres) earn around a quarter less than those closer to the CBD. 

Despite the Government’s focus on Western Sydney as its growth corridor, the Expanded Low-Density scenario performed the worst across most indicators with lower access to public transport, worse traffic for car commutes, lower access to green space, and further form local hospitals.  

“Australia needs to start setting national objectives that allow our cities to realise their full potential and remain globally competitive." 

The report developed a set of 15 recommendations around the Government establishing a consistent framework to ensure that as Australia grows, it is prepared for the future through the planning and development as well as budgeting for of liveable cities.

“Australia needs to start setting national objectives that allow our cities to realise their full potential and remain globally competitive,” says Infrastructure Australia CEO, Philip Davies. “That is why we are recommending that the Australian Government establish a consistent framework of incentives to drive the delivery of national benefits within our cities at the project, place, and reform level.”

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