Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Seeking Certainty: Recent Planning for Sydney and Melbourne

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Seeking Certainty: Recent Planning for Sydney and Melbourne

Article excerpt

Recent metropolitan strategies for Melbourne (2002) and Sydney (2005) are reviewed in order to establish why they were produced, what their main proposals are and the kind of methodology used.The central question posed is whether they provide sufficient purpose and direction while at the same time acknowledging the uncertainties facing the future of both cities. It is concluded that in seeking certainty they are too prescriptive and deterministic in their provisions, but they do provide a basis for adaptation and adjustment to changing conditions. These challenges exist in terms of climate change, management and use of energy and water, transport, and the need for a national approach to planning the Australian urban system.

This paper reviews metropolitan strategies which have been released in recent years for Australia's two largest cities: Melbourne, called Melbourne 2030 (Department of Infrastructure, 2002); and Sydney, titled City of Cities (Department of Planning, 2005). These two plans have much in common, but there are also important differences in emphasis and research content in the matters and concerns they cover. Their general themes are planning for a more sustainable future; developing advanced and innovative businesses which will be competitive and significant in the world economy; providing certainty for the property market; and having a more compact city form.

The background to the plans is that they are effectively state government documents. Local government authorities generally have fewer functions, powers and resources than in the United Kingdom and most parts of Europe, and the metropolitan strategies are written for and by the state government. Similarly, although Commonwealth government policies such as immigration impact substantially on urban conditions, there is no present desire for any engagement in the cities by the Commonwealth government. There is certainly no national view of the urban system and how it might be guided in the national interest. There is no present inclination to become involved in any of the urgent issues affecting some cities more than others, such as affordability of housing, and only reflexive engagement in matters that may be of national importance such as failures in urban transport systems, or port congestion.

Spatial planning, the provision of infrastructure and regulation of land use are the responsibility of each state government. This does provide the opportunity for co-ordination of these functions in their capital cities, and this has been achieved in varying degrees in the past. But, as well described by Gleeson and Low (2000), the neo-liberal agenda now followed by governments has complicated this potential, leading to part-privatisation of functions, the transference of risk from governments to households, and public-private partnerships in many major projects. There are continuing examples of lack of co-ordination and accountability and poor service arising from these circumstances. 'Splintering urbanism' (Graham and Marvin, 2001) has its Australian counterpart.

The key question explored in this paper is whether the methodology used in both plans provides a strategic planning framework which gives effective purpose and direction while also proving sufficiently flexible to deal with uncertainties. In doing this we pursue the implications of the strategies as state government documents, review the range of issues that the two cities are likely to face in the next 25 years (the planning period used by the strategies), and then comment on the appropriateness of the similar methodology employed by both cities in their forward planning.

The discussion is organised in four parts. The first briefly reviews current planning theory and paradigms relevant to such spatial strategies, together with examples of such plans from Europe as responses to urban complexity; increasing interconnection of cities and economies; the emerging issues of climate change and shortages of some forms of energy; and social harmony. …

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