AN urban planning expert has recommended that a long-term infrastructure development strategy for Western Australia be given more importance in order to avoid the issue becoming a casualty of political fights for electorate power.
“One of the issues is having a strategic plan and then having political decisions made to bring some infrastructure forward, because votes needed to be won in that part of the city,” demographer Bernard Salt told WA Business News.
“The problem is that urban planning and city planning is so directly relatable to specific electorates that can be won or lost and get politicians in or out of power.”
Committee for Perth chief executive Marion Fulker suggested that Perth take its lead from other parts of Australia, which had developed long-term infrastructure strategies.
“The south-east Queensland plan is a 20-year plan, and when it was approved had bipartisan support for 20 years regardless of change of government; that is what we need,” Ms Fulker said.
“It is not only a plan, it is a commitment.”
While the previous Labor government had developed an infrastructure strategy, it has never been released despite the urging efforts from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA.
Ms Fulker added that infrastructure issues facing the city were complicated and juggling the competing projects required long-term planning and consistent action.
“You can’t solve these problems in political cycles of four year terms, you just can’t. They are big problems, strategic and long term,” she said.
“You need a shared vision for the future, that the community subscribes to and it is a whole of Perth view.”
Mr Salt is doubtful of whether there is enough goodwill on both sides of politics.
“I think they will see metropolitan planning and the allocation of infrastructure as a battleground for years to come,” Mr Salt said.
“It is almost like we need a body independent of politics to determine the most efficient, logical and fair way to deliver infrastructure to an expanding Perth. To some extent, politicians can distort the way in which infrastructure is delivered across the metropolitan area.”
Town of Vincent Mayor Alannah MacTiernan said it was naïve to ignore the political weight infrastructure held, but that it could be managed.
“It is really hard to totally rise above any political consideration, that is naïve. But we do need to get some sort of broad consensus on some of the key directions,” she said.
Ms MacTiernan highlighted the federal Labor government’s overarching body Infrastructure Australia to point out that best laid plans can sometimes go awry.
“At the end of the day it came down to what projects the state government wanted to put in,” she said.
Geographic information systems and mapping business ESRI Australia recently provided the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) with a planning mega map for its Inventing the Future series, which discussed how to shape WA between 2010 and 2050.
The map overlays development forecasts in water, energy, infrastructure, population and agriculture. ESRI manager business development WA, Tom Gardner, said it helped to provide geographical context to the issues facing WA and Perth in the next period of growth.
He said it was evident from the map that leaving single departments and government organisations such as the Water Corporation to tackle problems alone wouldn’t provide the best solutions.
“The challenge I think we need to see for our state is to get greater collaboration between agencies. It is a multi-agency, multifaceted problem,” Mr Gardner said.
Ms MacTiernan said despite the inevitability of differing priorities when it came to infrastructure, it was important to have a broad perspective in terms of the impacts of development.
“In the 1990s when they allowed unheralded expansion well beyond what the planning scheme allowed in Cannington, for basically a decade, that killed Armadale and Gosnells. That is why we had to have the Armadale Redevelopment Authority to rebuild Armadale, because it had been completely devastated by that decision,” she said.