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Melbourne is set to have 7 million people by 2049, and a plan is needed.
IN 1949, Australia's population was 8 million, and Melbourne's about 1.25 million. Treasury secretary Ken Henry is now predicting populations in 2049 of 35 million and 7 million, respectively.
We have struggled to manage our transport systems, water supplies, pollution and urban expansion during moderate growth since the 1940s. How will we manage a growth explosion that Henry says will demand ''the largest structural adjustment in Australian history''?
The contribution of Roads Minister Tim Pallas (also known as the Minister for Large Trucks) is more freeways, more lanes on existing freeways, bigger trucks extended clearways, and the alienation of tens of thousands of hectares of farming and recreation land.
His colleague, Planning Minister Justin Madden (also known as the Minister for Fringe Land Development), faces the population explosion with a policy of destroying the present urban growth boundary and our established green wedges (together with a slight increase in housing densities). He also proposes to alienate quality farmland and recreational space, and to eliminate the biodiversity of many inner rural habitats.
Never mind that a city such as London has a much higher population than Melbourne but a much smaller footprint, and a fixed green boundary that has survived six decades of developer pressure.
In the light of federal Treasury predictions, Premier John Brumby needs to take control, tear up the already outdated Melbourne@5Million project and admit that his Government's land use, transport, natural resources and social amenity plans are now dead.
Brumby and his ministerial advisers don't seem to know that there are many large vacant areas and empty buildings suitable for housing development inside Melbourne's present boundaries. There is room enough for new towns south and west of North Melbourne station. Local councils can supply a long list of other sites.
As proposed by Melbourne urban designer Professor Rob Adams and others, development along train and tram lines must become a priority rather than an add-on. Four and five-storey buildings are reasonable in most areas and many train lines can be built over, which is common internationally.
Development problems are multiplied because the State Government refuses to face the fact that truck and car transport are heavily subsidised. Fuel taxes and other charges do not pay for road construction and many external costs, such as 17 per cent of hospital admissions flowing from road collisions.
By contrast with road transport, rail puts out a third of the emissions and uses a third of the fuel per tonne carried. As alluded to by Henry and Age state political editor Paul Austin, road congestion costs will be more than $20 billion a year by 2020: a dead loss to the economy.
Brumby, Pallas, and Madden are hooked on freeways. While there can be a place for ring roads around cities, they do not seem to understand that freeways slicing though city centres and suburbs simply encourage more traffic, more pollution, more congestion, more external costs, and a high fuel bill.
The fringe land development promoted by Madden is not cheap when families require two and three cars to get to work, schools and shops. Households in Casey, for example, average more than two cars. In Melton, 85 per cent of adults work outside the district.
It has been estimated by leading West Australian town planner Professor Peter Newman that running just one car costs a household more than $300,000 over 30 years. The Madden plan to push growth into our green zones will cost $100 billion more than if the same dwellings were built inside our present urban growth boundary.
Melbourne is fortunate in being surrounded by attractive regional cities and towns such as Warragul, Drouin, Seymour, Bendigo, Ballarat, Kyneton, Bacchus Marsh, Colac, Hastings, and Geelong. Most of these could take much larger populations, with the Government giving a lead such as decentralising departments and agencies, and improving train timetables. Why are most Aboriginal services centred in Melbourne? Why is Parks Victoria in Bourke Street?
In addition, mass transit must become a real alternative for most of the population, instead of less than 30 per cent now. Extension of the urban growth boundary will reduce that alternative to 20 per cent unless present rail lines are extended in four directions, and new lines are built in the Doncaster, Rowville, and Mornington corridors. Now only 13 per cent travel to work by mass transit.
The planned huge freeways from west of Werribee to the Hume Highway, from Balwyn through Bulleen and surrounds, and from Frankston to Mount Martha must be scrapped for economic and environmental reasons. The major new transport task must be directed to rail. Spending four-to-one in favour of road transport needs to be reversed.
Facing the threat of a population rise of 75 per cent in the next 40 years and a crippled city, Brumby has the opportunity to create a new ministry to sit above the domains of Madden and Pallas. It should be responsible for land use, passenger and freight transport, road and rail integration, and population. Future generations will judge him on his response to these challenges.
Brian Buckley is a public policy consultant and director of The Policy Centre.
Source: The Age
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