What’s good about the Coalition’s planning policy?

What Americans think 'family' means

I think some aspects of the Victorian Opposition’s clumsily titled Plan for Planning are doubtful, especially their proposal for ensuring 25 years land supply within Growth Areas and their intention of levying the Growth Areas Infrastructure Charge at the time of development.

But there are also some good ideas that I want to discuss, notably the proposal for a new strategic plan for Melbourne and another for an audit of the infrastructure capacity of the entire metropolitan area.

A new plan for Melbourne would be timely because Melbourne 2030 is misguided, old and tired. It’s been more than ten years since the process of preparing the metropolitan strategy began and eight years since it was published.

A key problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was misconceived from the get-go. It never worked properly and simply hasn’t delivered on its lofty ambitions.

Its relevance took a serious hit when the projections of future population growth that underpinned its policies were revised upwards. Further, one of its main directions – the primacy of the CBD – was weakened in 2008 when the Government decided to establish six new CBD-type Central Activities Districts in the suburbs.

The objective of locating nearly 70% of all dwelling commencements out to 2030 within the existing suburbs – rising to almost 80% by 2030 – was also abandoned in 2008 and replaced with the much less challenging target of just 53%.

And of course the much vaunted Urban Growth Boundary lasted only a few years before it was breached. The supply of well-located affordable housing that the plan was intended to foster dried up and neither jobs nor housing gravitated to suburban centres on anything like the scale originally envisaged.

The problem with Melbourne 2030 is that it was driven from the outset by ideological posturing rather than logic. Too many of its key directions weren’t supported by data or analysis and the consultation process was largely a sham. Read the rest of this entry »


Are Melburnians mad about trains?

Sir Ken Robinson - animation on changing paradigms in education (click)

Yesterday’s promise by the Victorian Opposition to build a $250 million rail line to Avalon Airport – with an unambiguous commitment to spend $50 million over the first term if elected – confirms how powerful the idea of rail is in this year’s election.

A new line is such a potent idea that Ted Baillieu didn’t even feel the need to lay out the warrant for the line. While the Greens are promising vapourware and the Government is close to mute on transport, the Coalition has put a real rail line on the table.

The Minister for Transport, Martin Pakula, made some lame criticisms of the accuracy of Mr Baillieu’s costing, but there are larger failings with this idea.

The most obvious one is it’s simply not warranted by patronage.  Given that the numbers don’t make sense (yet) for a rail line from the CBD to Tullamarine, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to add up for a small operation like Avalon. Geelong’s population of 175,000 offers growth potential for Avalon, but Tullamarine is always going to overshadow it because it’s much closer to the centre of gravity of Melbourne’s 4 million population.

Today’s listed flights (18 November) show only 13 scheduled departures from Avalon between 6.45am and 9.55pm. Avalon’s owner, Linfox, claims 1.5 million passengers use Avalon each year. This compares with 26 million p.a. using Tullamarine. Read the rest of this entry »


How can we improve our schools?

High demand: tram or bike? (Fed Square, late morning, Tuesday 9 November, 2010)

The editorial writer in The Age today reckons many teachers and parents will be underwhelmed by the Government’s new $208 $258 million Education for Life promise. The writer bemoans the lost opportunity for the Government to advance some “big ideas”.

I agree that Education for Life won’t rattle the windows of most voters, but the objectives of the program are important and worthwhile. As explained by VECCI, it addresses the disengagement of many young people from the education system. This is a program that, if done well, might help to tackle the sorts of safety and security issues around trains that I discussed yesterday.

It’s a pity, though, that the Premier didn’t use the opportunity of the campaign launch to also pick up on the important message in the new report on teacher effectiveness released this week by Melbourne’s own Grattan Institute, Investing in our teachers, investing in our economy.

In the past I’ve wondered what the purpose of some of the Institute’s reports is, but not this one. Its message is clear and direct – improving teacher effectiveness is the single most important reform that could be put in place to improve educational outcomes.

The report makes three key points. Read the rest of this entry »


Are Melbourne’s trains really dangerous?

"You are not alone" - discouraging suicide in Belgrade (click)

Personal safety on trains is a big election issue. Both major parties have promised to increase transit police numbers and to return more staff to stations.

This is not a beat up. Fear about personal safety – whether real or imagined – could seriously undermine usage of Melbourne’s trains, especially in off-peak periods. There’s a danger that negative perceptions will reach a ‘tipping point’ and assume epidemic proportions.

If the money proposed to be spent on building and operating a Doncaster rail line were instead devoted to improving security on the entire train system, I’ve little doubt it would give a much bigger pay-off in terms of replacing car trips with train.

But that highlights the other big issue with security – it adds significantly to the cost of running the train system.

The Government has promised an extra 100 transit police and 180 staff to provide a “presence” at all metropolitan stations. The Opposition is promising two armed police protective services officers on every one of Melbourne’s 200 plus stations after 6pm.

The Auditor General says there isn’t really a problem – passengers are apparently over-reacting. The number of crimes on the rail system remained constant over the last five years even though patronage grew 50%. Crime fell from 45 offences per million boardings in 2005-06 to 33 in 2008-09.

Yet in spite of these favourable numbers, perceptions of personal safety on trains and at stations have deteriorated over the same period. The proportion who rated the rail system as safe declined from 55% in 2005-06 to 51% in 2008-09. In contrast, perceptions of personal safety on buses were constant at around 71% over the period.

Train users might be delusional or irrational, but I doubt it. Read the rest of this entry »


Is the Opposition’s promised airport rail line good policy?

What New Yorker's complain about - NOISE!

The Age reported today that the Opposition has promised to start planning immediately for a new rail line from the CBD to the airport if elected. The leader of the Opposition, Mr Ted Baillieu, said tickets would be priced the same as current Zone 2 fares.

I’m not at all surprised. This idea has immense popular support from readers of The Age and, I daresay, from Melburnites generally.

There is little doubt that a time will come, given projected passenger numbers through Tullamarine, when passenger volumes will justify replacing the existing privately-owned Skybus service with rail.

But the available evidence indicates that time hasn’t come. Not yet. I’ve previously outlined the case against constructing an airport rail link at this time (herehereherehereherehere and here), but in summary the key objections are: Read the rest of this entry »


Does the Green’s public transport plan cut it?

Click to hear accents from world cities

Following my review of the Greens’ Public Transport Plan for Melbourne’s East (here and here) some Green’s supporters have suggested that I should really look at the party’s broader public transport vision for Melbourne.

They’ve suggested I should examine The People Plan, which the Greens bill as their “long term vision of the Melbourne we want to live in”. It’s intended to avoid good long-term policy losing out to short-term politics.

During the week The Sunday Age also asked me about the Greens transport policies, so all in all it seemed timely to visit The People Plan.

So I have. And I’m gobsmacked. There’s barely a space on the map where the Greens aren’t proposing to run a new rail line or a new tram line, build a new station or duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate rail lines. The scale of this plan is epic. The main components seem to be:

  • 10 new rail lines
  • Close to 40 new rail stations
  • Extension of four rail lines (electrification)
  • The aforementioned expansion of track capacity (duplications, etc)
  • 30 new trains
  • 12 new tram lines
  • 12 extended tram lines
  • 550 new trams
  • Conductors on all trams

All of this, the Greens say, can be bought for a mere $13 billion plus additional operating costs of $333 million per annum.

I applaud the objective of making Melbourne a more liveable, sustainable and equitable city. Melbourne definitely needs better public transport. But whether this Plan is the best way of achieving that objective is doubtful. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »


Do fringe dwellers want density?

150 m2 house on 294 m2 lot at Craigieburn

The benefits of residential density are more complex than they appear. The attractions of living cheek by jowl in places like Surfers Paradise or the CBD may not apply everywhere, especially on the fringes of our major cities.

Almost everyone knows, it seems, that density has enormous benefits. It is correlated with lower levels of car ownership, fewer kilometres driven and higher public transport use. It lowers infrastructure costs and is also associated with lower consumption of energy and water. According to some, it’s even connected with higher levels of social capital and lower rates of obesity.

However most of the benefits – both private and social – do not derive from density per se but rather from location. Lots of people want to live in high amenity places like the beachfront or in proximity to the jobs, entertainment opportunities and transport infrastructure of somewhere like the city centre. These sorts of places are in short supply so demand can only be met by increasing density.

Higher density necessarily means less land per dwelling but it doesn’t inevitably mean smaller dwellings. However unless you’re filthy rich, one of the compromises you will have to make to capitalise on a sought-after location is a smaller dwelling. The 350 m2 McMansion on the fringe might at best be a 140 m2 three bedroom unit on the top of Doncaster Hill or an 80 m2 two bedroom unit in Docklands.

The point is that many of the social benefits associated with density – like higher public transport use and lower car ownership – are a function of the location, not the dwelling type. In turn, lower energy and water use is not primarily a direct function of density but rather a result of their smaller size.

This might seem self-evident or even a distinction of no more than academic interest. But as I’ve argued before, the failure to fully understand what density is, can lead to bad policy. It is also a particularly pertinent point in the context of advocating higher densities in places like fringe Growth Areas.

Read the rest of this entry »