Australia: A collaborative approach to city planning for Sydney - 30 minute cities

Last Updated: 13 November 2017
Article by Lina Fischer and Stuart M Cosgriff

Most Read Contributor in Australia, October 2017

A strong theme of the draft Greater Sydney Region Plan is better integrating urban planning and transport planning

In recent years, the NSW Government has embraced a long overdue collaboration and alignment between infrastructure and land planning.

This has culminated most recently in the release for public comment of the draft Greater Sydney Region Plan and draft Future Transport 2056 Strategy, so now is the time to have your say and help shape the future of NSW infrastructure. The Plan, prepared by the Greater Sydney Commission, was concurrently developed with the metropolitan transport strategy, Future Transport 2056 Strategy, and creates a three cities, one metropolis vision for Greater Sydney.

The Plan highlights that "Greater Sydney's most pressing challenge today is to support population growth and demographic change, while improving liveability". It sets out a 40 year blueprint for the city's development and aims to assist not only infrastructure agencies with planning and managing population growth, but also inform the private sector and wider community of the proposed vision and growth areas for Greater Sydney. There are three parts to the strategy:

  • programs that are committed to over the next 10 years;
  • initiatives for further investigation or implementation over a 0-20 year timeframe; and
  • visionary initiatives in the 20 year plus timeframe.

The Plan emphasises the need to better integrate how we plan for transport with how we plan for urban development. Recognising that planning for transport has tended to occur in isolation from the shape of our cities, a strong theme of the Plan is better integrating urban planning and transport planning.

Three Cities

The three cities envisaged by the Greater Sydney Commission are the established Eastern Harbour City, the developing Central River City anchored by Greater Parramatta and the emerging Western Parkland City encompassing the strategic centres of Penrith, Liverpool, Campbelltown-Macarthur and Blacktown.

The three cities approach aims to rebalance our city and focuses on development of, as well as interconnections between, each of the three cities with a view to facilitating 30 minute cities, where people can live within 30 minutes of work, study and entertainment, as well as access a range of services and housing options across Greater Sydney. The Strategy acknowledges that this will require a "sustained and staged investment program to protect corridors and then develop a connected mass transit network across the city".

While framing Parramatta as a second CBD is certainly not new, you might ask yourself is this Plan and Strategy a cause for optimism that this goal is in fact achievable? With a range of Government strategies all pulling together in the same direction and the introduction of the Western Sydney Airport, will this finally be enough to help shift the centre of gravity away from the harbour foreshore?

Whole of government collaboration

The Plan calls for whole of government collaboration when planning and managing infrastructure over the long term. This would no doubt help ensure vital transport corridors are protected early, thereby minimising costs in the long run, existing assets are optimised and strong cost-benefit business cases rather than politics are the driving force behind development initiatives. This echoes the Productivity Commission's recommendation in its recent report Shifting the Dial, that called for an "overhaul of processes used in the development and assessment of infrastructure investments", in particular the need for sound cost-benefit studies and better long-term planning to avoid developments encroaching on transport routes.

Technological transformations

The Plan and Strategy each also acknowledge the increasing role of technology in both the everyday customer's experience, as well as the type of infrastructure that will be needed, for example with the introduction of driverless cars. Given the long lead times associated with infrastructure, it is crucial that infrastructure is not only resilient but flexible in design so it may adapt and respond to technological transformations over time.

Areas for investigation

Whether or not there is real cohesion between the Commission's Plan and the Strategy remains to be tested, but the fact it has been developed alongside NSW's transport strategy shows a strong willingness by the parties to provide an integrated vision for the State, with the transport initiatives detailed in the Plan sourced from the Strategy, and several common themes arising, such as the need for improvements to our freight network in order to manage expected increased demands and an increasing awareness surrounding the role of technology and customer-driven experience. Notwithstanding this, there is still a way to go before the two are truly aligned, and the implementation of the Plan at a local level in terms of planning and land use will be critical to its success.

Some other areas tipped for further investigation include:

  • the introduction of housing targets and the build to rent market;
  • the role of green infrastructure, sustainable communities and waste management;
  • new methods for capturing value from both users and developers;
  • better east to west connections between our regional communities;
  • the introduction of a "hub and spoke" approach for regional development that focuses on creating interconnections within and between primary regional centres (rather than a Sydney centric approach); and
  • the revitalisation of existing assets and the optimisation of networks to better address both congestion and under use.

District Plans

The draft District Plans have also been released; they are a guide for the implementation of the Plan at a district and local planning level, and are split into the following areas:

  • Western City District;
  • Central City District;
  • Eastern City District;
  • North District; and
  • South District.

Remember to have your say

The draft Future Transport 2056 Strategy will be open for comment until December 3 and the draft Greater Sydney Region Plan will be open until 15 December.


Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this bulletin. Persons listed may not be admitted in all states and territories.

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