The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) has welcomed Infrastructure Australia’s (IA) updated Infrastructure Priority List, but cautioned that a unifying and overarching narrative is still absent from Australia’s long-term national strategic planning framework.
It’s self-evident Australian governments need to invest in big-ticket infrastructure projects, PIA’s Chief Policy Officer, Rolf Fenner said. However, the decision-making around these projects has to be both coordinated and integrated.
“How does IA’s proposed list of priority projects complement the equivalent lists produced by state and territory governments infrastructure bodies?” he asked. “And do the projects themselves seek to help implement state and local strategic planning initiatives.
“The elephant in the room is the continued lack of national strategic planning by the Commonwealth in articulating the long-term settlements future for the nation.”
Mr Fenner added that the IA report had little to say about the critical importance of the quality of design of our major infrastructure projects – or about evaluating their real benefits post-construction.
Whilst PIA acknowledges that these issues are outside of IA’s remit, they are nonetheless too important to go unremarked upon.
“Surely the community is entitled to understand how the all the infrastructure dots are meant to be joined up?” he asked.
“There’s a crying need for a national urban design protocol to reinforce and champion design excellence in everything we do with the built environments,” Mr Fenner said. “But it’s absent from discussions on major infrastructure investment prioritisation.”
Well-located, well-designed and properly maintained infrastructure – large and small-scale – helped produce better quality outcomes for Australian communities, and facilitated greater social inclusion.
That meant the community infrastructure investments generally carried out by local governments across the country should not forgotten or under-estimated, Mr Fenner warned.
“There may be merit in IA investigating smaller infrastructure projects that fall below the $30 million threshold, but which, when bundled, are worthy of inclusion on the Priority List,” he said.
“Whilst PIA acknowledges the constraints under which IA operates as an advisory body, future Priority Lists would carry greater weight and authority if there was a deeper, more thorough discussion of the strategic merits of listed projects,” Mr Fenner said.
PIA endorsed IA’s advice to put greater effort and resources into improving infrastructure planning and business-case development, Mr Fenner said, adding that planners had long supported funding based on clear business cases and within strategic planning frameworks.
He said PIA particularly welcomed those major national building initiatives designed to reserve corridors for future inland rail infrastructure projects, transit connections to major airports, and freight corridors.
“These infrastructure game-changers need to happen in close consultation with the community, and to demonstrate to all citizens the value of governments making long-term decisions in the interests of the broader community, especially future generations,” Mr Fenner said.
“Managing Australia’s future population growth so we remain competitive in a rapidly changing world demands that we prioritise the planning and delivery of productivity-enhancing and quality-of-life infrastructure,” he said.
“Planners know the value of working at different spatial and times scales – and understand that proper consideration needs to be given to important economic, social, and environmental policy outcomes if we’re to shape our urban and regional spaces and places effectively,” Mr Fenner said.