“If London can do it, why can’t Melbourne?”Posted: March 30, 2010
If London can really grow without expanding its urban perimeter, why did our planning Minister, Justin Madden, seek to extend Melbourne’s urban growth boundary last year?
As I noted on Friday (How big is Melbourne?), journalist Jason Dowling says that “forever outward expansion (of Melbourne) is not a necessity. London has barely touched its urban perimeter for decades but has grown in population with better use of old industrial and commercial land”.
There are three aspects of this quote that I wouldn’t accept at face value.
First, the task of maintaining London’s boundary was no doubt made vastly easier by the fact that London’s population declined from 8.2 million in 1951 to 6.8 million in 1981 and stayed there until 1991. Moreover, its population even now is only 7.5 million – a mere 10% increase over two decades and a decrease over 50 years.
That doesn’t really compare with the growth Melbourne has experienced since the nineteen fifties. In 1956 Melbourne housed 1.5 million people – today it accommodates 4 million, a 266% increase!
Second, having such a surfeit of vacant industrial and commercial land means that London did not have to confront the serious issues of redeveloping residential land that Melbourne faces. Even in the unlikely event that obstacles like competing uses, residual contamination and resident opposition could be put aside, all of the redundant sites identified in Melbourne could only accommodate a minor part of the growth projected for Melbourne to 2050.
Third, as I argued on Friday, London is surrounded by an extensive commuter belt. It covers much of the South East region and part of the East of England region, including the Home counties of Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. It would be disingenuous to claim that London’s boundary hasn’t changed if growth has taken place outside it. Melbourne would no doubt look a lot less sprawled in the north-west if our two satellites, Melton and Sunbury, were ignored!
Before buying the ‘London can do it, so why can’t Melbourne?’ line of argument, I’d want to see some facts that I could have more confidence in.