10/07/2020 - 16:00

Growing cities play long game to build community

10/07/2020 - 16:00

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WA’s population is projected to reach at least 3.6 million in the next half century, bringing the promise of new opportunities and looming challenges to the city’s economically, culturally and geographically diverse exurban and outer-suburban communities.

Ocean Reef Marina is likely to begin development this year, with an estimated 900 jobs to be created in the construction phase. Photo: City of Joondalup

Kevin Bailey can attest to the difficulties that come with governing a city as large and diverse as the City of Swan.

Stretching from the rolling greenery of Avon National Park in the north-east through the suburbs of Midland, Caversham and Hazelmere in its south-west, the city takes in a swath of geography as diverse as its demographic mix and industry cohort.

The area has traditionally been known as an exurban manufacturing hub, with Linfox and DHL among its largest business tenants, alongside a lesser reliance on Swan Valley tourism.

Providing retail and healthcare have become increasingly crucial to the area’s commercial composition as Perth’s suburban tendrils reach the City of Swan.

As part of this effort, the Metropolitan Redevelopment Authority helped drive transformation of Midland’s former railway workshops into the Curtin Health Campus, which opened last November, with input of $22 million.

As City of Swan mayor since 2015, Mr Bailey is aware of the opportunities and challenges development can bring. 

He told Business News the city’s diversity had given rise to a council that represented a patchwork of political views that often failed to provide a clear path to consensus.

The City of Swan has a comparatively high rate of Vietnamese and Indian migrants, coupled with one of the state’s largest indigenous populations (3 per cent of the populace overall), and Mr Bailey is therefore mindful of the balance he must strike in the community.

That’s without considering the perennial challenge of funding the requisite services and infrastructure to sustain growth. 

“Everybody who comes to live in any community expects they will have parks, playgrounds, community centres and libraries,” Mr Bailey said.

“When you experience the rapid growth the City of Swan has … to keep up with that is a challenge.

“We are very much restricted by the supply of water; some of our playing fields we have funds to construct we haven’t been able to, because we haven’t got sufficient water allocation to do that.

“Those types of infrastructure and community facilities are a challenge to fund, especially when we get fluctuations in the economy and we’re right in the middle of it.

“The cost shifting from the state government, where they traditionally may have funded things like libraries, youth services and aged services, that’s been shifted down to local government.

“It’s very hard for local governments to absorb that and run a business at the same time.

“Growth, while a strength, is one of our biggest challenges.”

Building bridges

How best to manage population growth has long challenged WA’s political leadership, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics projecting an increase in the state to between 3.6 million and 5.9 million by 2066.

Meanwhile, land recycling has taken on renewed importance, with the Department of Planning’s target of 47 per cent infill for new housing developments challenging outer-suburban councils’ capacity to ensure jobs and essential services are available for the growth in residents.

For many of Perth’s burgeoning suburbs, those challenges have manifested as a need to diversify local industries, as councils expand their infrastructure developments to meet those needs.

That’s evident in the City of Kwinana, which is anticipating the development of a new $4 billion port, pending a decision by the state government, and the City of Canning, where both the Bentley 360 and a $76 million city centre regeneration program are intended to make both localities more economically self-reliant and attractive to new residents.

A medium to high-density infill project, Bentley 360 is slated to deliver 1,500 dwellings, parkland and recreational spaces, as well as commercial and retail offerings.

For somewhere like Kwinana, which as recently as 15 years ago was a town with a low rate base and little in the way of social amenity, these projects are expected to prove ambitious, but necessary.

City of Kwinana mayor Carol Adams, who joined the council in 1997, was clear that infrastructure would play an integral role in meeting the city’s growth needs, recounting how the opening of the train station in 2007 had a catalytic role for the surrounding community.

“We knew there was going to be a tsunami of growth coming to the area, but the challenge was always going to be … how we were going to work to get the infrastructure needs or get ahead of it,” Ms Adams said.

“That was at a time when we were going through with the transit-oriented development, and we had the two train stations planned for Kwinana.

“We knew that having that infrastructure there was going to attract more people who could live close to a railway station for the convenience.”

More than attracting businesses and residents to the area, new infrastructure could also foment increased business activity, which in turn could assist in funding for vital services.

City of Canning mayor Patrick Hall said while an increase in business activity helped supplement rates, it was important the revenue was shared across the city’s suburbs – from high-income locales such as Shelley and Rossmoyne, to Bentley, Queens Park and Cannington.

“The business sector is more important to the City of Canning than it has ever been for a whole raft of reasons,” Mr Hall told Business News.

“Westfield Carousel … is a very big stakeholder in the City of Canning, and because they’ve got such a large footprint, they’re also one of our largest ratepayers; so they’re incredibly important to the economy.

“The rates we receive from the commercial sector assist us in our residential sector, and they provide the sort of community programs that keep this community strong.

“Unlike some other councils, we have a real balancing act to make sure we can appeal to and manage the needs of all the residents equally, while understanding our cohort is so much different than other local governments.”

Future investments

While many of Perth’s growth suburbs will need increased investment in infrastructure ahead of an expected population boom, other councils would have to manage the political reality of requiring ratepayers to foot a large part of the bill.

For City of Swan mayor Kevin Bailey, the value of spending on infrastructure is clear.

He said developments such as Midland’s newly opened health campus would aid job sustainability in the area by increasing vital services on offer, therefore increasing its rate base.

From a political perspective, however, convincing ratepayers that expensive and difficult-to-develop infrastructure was worth it can be the most daunting part of a mayor’s job.

City of Joondalup mayor Albert Jacob has confronted that issue repeatedly throughout his political career, having campaigned to develop the Ocean Reef Marina, replete with 12,000 square metres of retail and commercial space and capacity for more than 1,000 homes.

Mr Jacob said development of the marina had been central to almost all of his political campaigns since 2006, and that years of planning and environmental approvals, coupled with the political battles, had at times obfuscated the project’s overall progress.

“When I rocked up [to state parliament in 2009], they still thought it was a highly controversial project,” Mr Jacob said.

“My view, based on the local community, was that it wasn’t.

“That’s not to say there weren’t people vehemently opposed to it – of course there were – but I based my career on the assumption that the vast majority of people wanted to see it.

“Large infrastructure projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars generally take five to 10 years; sometimes, I wish it would be quicker.

“When I started [campaigning for] Ocean Reef Marina I thought it would be quicker, but time has taught me that’s the process, and you can’t give up.

“While we’ve proven there is community support … when you clock over more than 10 years of talking about it without getting a shovel in the ground, there’s this level of cynicism about [if] this is ever going to happen.”

Mr Jacob said the political aspect of his job took on renewed importance in that regard in terms of community engagement and support, and ensuring the project remained viable 14 years after he pitched it. 

Mr Bailey shared a similar sentiment, arguing that while the processes required to develop a city’s infrastructure could be unglamorous, there was a need for the city’s council and administration to keep the community onside during what could become a drawn-out process.

“It’s about selling the vision,” Mr Bailey said.

“The decisions we make and the money we spend today isn’t for us, it’s for our children and our children’s children.

“People in my age bracket … we’re not going to go and play football, but our grandchildren are, so when we build that new oval or pavilion, our children’s children will get the greatest benefit of that.

“The plans, investments and budgets we put in today is benefit for those generations down the track.

“Everyone seems to think it’s about me and what I get today, but you’ve always got to play the long game for major projects and infrastructure.

“It’s about what we can provide for future generations.”  

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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