Thursday, September 01, 2011

What's wrong with "urban sprawl"?

The fact that people choose free-standing houses just arouses Greenie contempt. They want us all back in tenements

Recently, self-appointed planning "experts" have criticised the performance of planning systems that have shaped suburbs and cities, denigrating governments that delivered the homes of millions of Australians.

The critics say such communities and suburban development are unsustainable and have called for government, in the name of sustainability, to choose high-density development over greenfield development, often labelled "sprawl". To them, density is good and suburban development is bad.

But the simple fact is we need to meet dwelling demand, achieve housing affordability and provide much-needed community services and infrastructure.

Across the country, notwithstanding the growing trend to inner-city living and more infill development, demand continues to be for detached houses in greenfield locations, and the strongest population growth continues to be in outer suburbs.

Bear in mind those suburbs will become tomorrow's middle or inner-ring suburbs of emerging cities - Logan, Ipswich and the new cities of Ripley, Yarrabilba and Caloundra South.

While dwellings produced through options such as infill and redevelopment do meet a need for housing in particular urban locations, such consolidation will not, in reality, preclude the need for continuing greenfield development to meet the overwhelming bulk of dwelling demand. Detached housing, typical of greenfield developments, remains the preferred housing type across households and age demographics.

Infill development is popular for many because of reduced travel times and better access to public transport and employment.

However, in southeast Queensland, many master-planned communities, particularly on Brisbane's northern and western outskirts and on the Gold Coast, are also achieving high employment generation targets.

Elsewhere, there are other examples of employment self-sufficiency in outer-urban master-planned developments.

This strategy overcomes the primary complaint of heavy vehicle usage and travel times.

Well-planned suburban and master-planned communities are also designed to be rich in social capital, with high levels of engagement by residents in their local community and with significant participation in local sporting, cultural and social activities and events, often using local parks and recreational facilities.

Typically, in suburban locations there is a net density of eight dwellings per hectare.

Recently, many major developers have achieved between 11 and 13 dwellings per hectare on a net basis in master-planned communities such as Forest Lake, Springfield and North Lakes.

Densities in these locations can only increase incrementally over time, with smaller lots becoming increasingly popular due to affordability.

The next generation of major greenfield development is looking to achieve a net density of at least 15 dwellings per hectare, with a diversity of housing products to meet a wide range of target markets, including more affordable housing options. These would represent twice the density of previous years.

As such, there is a compelling argument that it is sound planning to build communities to these incrementally higher densities at the urban fringe, as well as commit to redevelopment and urban renewal. This is because of two primary factors.

First, upgrading and augmentation of infrastructure in existing areas can be expensive and disruptive and is not an acceptable stand alone solution. Major road works and sewerage and storm water upgrades on busy suburban roads are the bane of economic efficiency and sustainability as they become "crawling car parks".

Second, the creation of cities in growth areas not only provides new sustainable communities, it also creates urban hubs for existing fringe suburbs, adding to life quality.

The answer then is to be inclusive, not exclusive. To provide adequate supplies of both greenfield and infill development under a realistic planning framework based on sustainability performance, infrastructure planning, social preference and market demand realities.


Australia entering a new era of uncertainty in the age of globalisation and information

Mike O'Connor is normally a cheerful writer -- but not below

THERE are times when you sense a sudden and fundamental shift in your world, a moment of realisation which flashes across the mind like summer lightning.

I felt it last week as I read BlueScope Steel was closing part of its steel-making operation and sacking 1000 workers and Qantas was cutting its international services and shedding staff.

In the same week, Foster's was attempting to fend off a hostile foreign takeover, made vulnerable by the remorseless slide in Australian-brewed beer sales and local car makers complained they faced a perilous future.

Ever-cynical, I sneered at the year 2000 celebrations marking the beginning of the new millennium. It was, after all, just the beginning of another year like every other, its passage prefixed by 20 instead of 19.

Eleven years on I realise that the Australia of that last decade of the 20th century, one which had evolved from the post-war world of the 1950s, has gone forever.

The links that tied us to that half century have been severed and the nation now moves into a sea of uncertainty that will test us, as did the military conflicts of the past century, the furnaces in which modern Australia was forged.

"We're bleeding" is the retailers' lament that echoes through the malls that ring our great cities, the theory being that due to the wild fluctuations of the share market and the threat of higher interest rates, shoppers are keeping their hands in their pockets.

Once calmness and sanity again prevail, the chatter of receipts being spat from credit card charge terminals will again bring a smile to the merchants' faces.

Maybe not. Perhaps, in a decade, the great malls will stand idle and their car parks empty, the all-powerful internet having wiped out an industry that began when man first swapped an animal skin for a haunch of meat.

With the malls will go the tens of thousands of jobs that for so long have been the refuge of the semi-skilled, the sales assistants we all love to hate, the bright-eyed kids in their first job and bespectacled matrons who remember when parcels were wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

Tourism operators appeal to governments to spend more money promoting the wonders of Australia to the world, to lure back those travellers who once packed our beaches and restaurants.

When things settle down, they say, we'll be right. What we need now is a quirky marketing campaign or a video clip that "goes viral".

Maybe not. Maybe the tourists will never return in the numbers which we once enjoyed. The world has become a much larger place and Australia is no longer seen as that unique continent which everyone with the means should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Asia is cheaper, closer, more exotic, Europe more diverse, Africa more intriguing and South America more challenging.
Australia is a "nice" place, somewhere to go when you have retired and are looking for a sedate travel experience.

Nor will Australians fill the motel beds and surf clubs. The two-weeks-at-the-beach family holiday is fading faster than denim in the sun.

We will still flock to our broad, white sand beaches over summer weekends but the money, the real money, will be spent on low-cost Asian airlines ferrying us to Phuket and Bali.

And Qantas? The glory days of the flying kangaroo are gone. There are now seven international airlines rated as five-star Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong), Qatar (Middle East), Hainan (China), Asiana (South Korea), Malaysian (Malaysia), Singapore Airlines (Singapore) and Kingfisher (India).

Qantas? Four-star, along with carriers such as Garuda (Indonesia), Turkish Airlines and Air New Zealand.

If you drive to the beach it will be in a Volkswagen or a Hyundai, not a Commodore. The Commodore and the Falcon will be gone before 2020, the Federal Government having finally accepted that the nation could no longer afford to prop up a product nobody wanted.

We will, largely, stop making things, or at least make only those things that can't be bought more cheaply or more easily from China.

The "Made in Australia" brand will disappear from shelves to be remembered in the same way as my mother recalls Persil washing powder and Kooka gas stoves.

China will continue to grow, although perhaps not at its current frenetic pace, and anyone who believes the United States is likely to return to the prosperity of the 1990s any time soon is, I suspect, living a fantasy.

The cry of "All the way with LBJ" will echo faintly from the past century as the power of Asia and the sub-continent mushrooms and the US retreats behind its borders, never again to gallop over the hill, sabre drawn, as the world's policeman.

The game is changing and changing fast. I'm not saying the quality of life in this country will suffer but there is a fundamental shift occurring in the way the nation operates. This change will require resilience, innovation, intellectual excellence and the ability to adapt, qualities in which we abound. But it will also require leadership.

"Cometh the hour," it is said, "cometh the man." Worryingly, I see no sign yet that this man, or woman, has arrived.


Rogue union says $95 an hour not enough for workers

WORKERS on the regional rail link are set to earn $150,000 a year, but a union is heading to Fair Work Australia to fight for more pay.

Joint bidder AbiGroup and Thiess have agreed to pay Australian Workers' Union members up to $95.23 an hour for work on the $4.3 billion rail line, according to a copy of the agreement seen by the Herald Sun.

But the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union have so far been locked out of negotiations with builders short-listed to work on dedicated VLine tracks between Southern Cross station and Werribee.

The CFMEU, fined $560,000 in June for an illegal blockade, will head to Fair Work Australia on Friday to fight to be included in the project and seek a more lucrative deal.

The Herald Sun understands builders preferred to work with the AWU because it was more reasonable in its demands for pay and conditions.

CFMEU secretary Bill Oliver confirmed the union was taking the dispute to Fair Work Australia. It was taking both the AWU and the contractors to the tribunal.

The AWU has signed a similar agreement with Fulton Hogan and John Holland and was expected to sign another deal next week with the final short-listed bidder Leighton Baulderstone JV.

All three consortiums are bidding to build the link between Deer Park and West Werribee.

AWU secretary Cesar Melhem, who brokered the deals, said it was at the "top end" of civil construction pay rates in Victoria. "The money is good. I'm happy with that," he said. "The average wage will be around $150,000. People might think that's a lot of money, but we are talking about a 56-hour week."

Mr Melhem declined to comment on the CFMEU's bid at Fair Work Australia.

Corey Hannett, chief executive of the Regional Rail Link Authority, said the contract for the Deer Park to West Werribee section of the project would be awarded early next year.


Schools may need to take on underperforming students to ensure funding, report says

The usual Leftist push to reduce everybody to the lowest common denominator

HIGH-performing schools may be put under pressure to take on underperforming students as a condition of funding.

A report commissioned by the Australian Government Review of Funding for Schooling has made the suggestion, adding "we need to question the extent to which public funds should continue to subsidise those already well-resourced selective schools that are not providing 'value' add in terms of student performance".

The independent report - along with three others released by the panel yesterday - has been met with dismay by the private sector but praised by the Australian Education Union.

Comments released by the review panel yesterday state the reports "have made a case for fundamental change in the way we fund schooling at all levels of government".

School Education Minister Peter Garrett said the reports would help the review panel develop its final recommendations, but he distanced the Government from what was in them.

"They do not represent the views of the panel and are not indicative of the Government's intentions," he said.

One report, written by the Allen Consulting Group, recommends school outcome information, including NAPLAN and My School financial data, be used to help decide base funding for all schools.

"Loading" would be provided to schools identified as needing additional resources "to assist students with specific needs to achieve specified outcomes".

Another report, written by a consortium led by The Nous Group, said higher-performing schools should be encouraged to "take on more under-performing students and demonstrate their quality through student performance over and above what would have been expected from past performance. This may mean restructuring some or all of the public subsidies so that they are retrospective and 'reward-based"'.

AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said the reports confirmed current funding contributed to a "deepening inequality in educational outcomes".

Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said the review had failed to provide any analysis of its own, leaving private schools still nervous that their funding could be cut in real terms and that top-performing schools might suffer under the new funding model.


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