As part of the State's overhaul of planning and development provisions in Queensland, the State has recently released the single State Planning Policy and is currently in the process of reviewing both the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 and regional plans, including the South East Queensland Regional Plan 2009-2031. Last month, the State also released "The Queensland Plan: a 30-year vision for Queensland" (Queensland Plan), following extensive public consultation across the State.
What is the Queensland Plan?
The Queensland Plan is intended to:
The State anticipates that the working draft of the Queensland Plan will be completed in mid-2014 and delivered in 2014 by governments at State and local levels, businesses, industry, community organisations and individuals.
The website for the Queensland Plan indicates that it will be "...enshrined in Queensland's legislation in 2014 and will inform policy and planning decisions well into the future". It is not clear at this stage what status the Queensland Plan will have in moulding town and regional planning policy or influencing planning decisions.
We will have to wait to see the proposed legislation, but it seems unlikely that its role will involve more than political "guidance" because it covers several topics that traditionally fall outside the scope of town and regional planning, such as education and health.
Queensland Plan targets
The Queensland Plan is a "vision" for Queensland. It contains preliminary targets which fall under nine themes of education, health, regions, economy, governance, environment, infrastructure, community and people.
A number of the preliminary targets would be best described as high level or ideological, and some will require significant funding or a shift in attitudes and culture before they could be achieved.
For example, the "community" preliminary targets include that "Queensland has the highest rates of volunteering and community participation in Australia" and that "anyone who makes Queensland their home has employment opportunities and is welcomed into the community". These types of targets, which are largely dependent on individual actions and perceptions (eg welcoming people into the community), would seem to be difficult to practically implement and measure.
Half of Queensland's population living outside South East Queensland
Of particular interest is the "regions" preliminary target that "half of Queensland's population lives outside South East Queensland". This is reflected in Premier Newman's message that "in 30 years we aspire to have half of the state's population living outside South East Queensland".
The Queensland Plan indicates that success for this target will "look like":
- "Our regions are prosperous and liveable.
- Centres of excellence attract highly skilled labour and drive innovation.
- Local decision making drives regional development.
- Regions have strong, diverse economies.
- Regional development and service delivery reflect the needs of each region.
- Regions collaborate productively.
- We are the number one reliable and safe food bowl of Asia.
- We have a range of employment choices".
Success for this target is described in more detail. Overall, these descriptions are directed towards establishing regional growth hubs for business and industry, regional "investment-ready" business environments, leading the Asia region in food production and crop diversification, and job opportunities in regional areas.
It is unclear from the sections titled "What do Queenslanders want?", "What does success look like?" and "Describing success", how these statements correlate with the target that "half of Queensland's population" will be located outside South East Queensland and how this target of 50 percent has been arrived at.
This target is inconsistent with one of the "infrastructure" preliminary targets that Queenslanders use existing infrastructure efficiently. How can this "infrastructure" target be achieved where population growth will be directed from infrastructure-rich South East Queensland to regional areas, many of which are currently ill-equipped in terms of existing infrastructure capable of supporting the regional population growth proposed by the Queensland Plan?
On the other hand, South East Queensland has been the subject of massive investment in roads, public transport and water infrastructure over the past decade, most of which is largely under-utilised. Furthermore, to accommodate the Queensland Plan's proposed regional growth would require major expansion of regional centres, which would significantly increase the urban footprint of those centres and require substantial development investment.
The Queensland Plan's target is also internally inconsistent. It aspires to have access to a range of opportunities irrespective of where people live and their career paths so that young people do not need to relocate, yet also supports businesses and people relocating to regional centres. Even if half of Queensland's population is located outside of the South East, the State's vast size means that it will still be necessary for many people to relocate for employment.
The Queensland Plan does not state any targets specifically in relation to South East Queensland. This is a significant oversight, as South East Queensland is a long established hub for development, business and industry which has significant infrastructure and existing forward planning to accommodate further growth and development.
Queensland's geographical area and diversity means that to support significant growth in regional areas would require major infrastructure investment in order to accommodate anticipated population growth and to facilitate travel within and between regional centres (eg airports, highway widening). It is unclear how this will be funded.
The target that half of Queensland's population lives outside South East Queensland by 2044 seems impractical. The goals of increasing the State's regional economic and employment growth, and of maximising food production for export are laudable, however this needs to be achieved in a balanced and measured way which avoids economic shock to regions and ensures that infrastructure is used efficiently across the State.
A more appropriate approach would be to promote moderate growth in certain regional areas in order to reflect the community's wish to create stronger regional centres, but at the same time promote the enhancement of South East Queensland's position as a strong, established base for Queensland. This would also enable Queensland to maintain its anticipated growth and desirability in comparison to other major Australian cities.
Making a submission
The Queensland Plan is open for submissions until 7 March 2014. Further information about the Queensland Plan and making a submission is available here.
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