Learn from Irma: National plan needed for urban growth

Barbara Norman
Barbara Norman

Australia should learn from the havoc wreaked on the United States by Hurricane Irma and other weather events to better plan city growth, a University of Canberra expert has told federal Parliament.

Chair of Urban and Regional Planning, Barbara Norman, said a national plan for growth of cities and towns was needed to prevent housing and commercial development in areas of Australia that will be impacted by weather events and natural disasters.

Addressing the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, Professor Norman said national coordination was needed, especially as climate change brings greater risks to urban populations and the environment.

"What we don't have is a national perspective on how we are to manage future growth and decline," she said.

"As a whole nation, we will grow quite substantially over the next few years - current projections are up to 40 million by 2050. If that happens, that's enormous growth. We need to be planning for that.

"We also need to be very mindful of the events in the United States right now, with the extreme events, and be very aware of where we place future urban growth and that we don't place future urban growth in areas that are exposed to high levels of extreme risk."

She told the committee, chaired by Sydney MP John Alexander, Australia could follow the US in creating a national plan for hot spots of extreme risk where development could be prevented.

An integrated approach to planning, shared by all levels of government, would lower risk.

Professor Norman said the task was a national responsibility, worthy of attention from federal Parliament and the national government.

"How can we grow from 23 million to 40 million without a plan?"

A life fellow of the Planning Institute of Australia, she told the committee a cultural issue of Australians wanting to live as close as possible to the coast needed to be addressed, along with housing affordability in the capital cities.

More effective planning, including to drive population growth in regional centres and promote decentralisation of the Australian population, would benefit the population and the environment.

"Providing just a transport connection between A and B is not adequate," Professor Norman said.

"What does work and has been demonstrated in places like Bendigo and Ballarat and Geelong... the lessons have been you must invest in education facilities, in health and in infrastructure.

"The social infrastructure is just as important as the physical infrastructure."

A self-declared advocate for Canberra, Professor Norman said managing risk and the impact of climate change was key to well-planned cities and communities.

She said only federal MPs could outline the required principles and oversight for effective development.

Federal government should seek assurances from the state and territories that good planning was in place before weather events or disasters happen.

"A national government needs to be confident in providing funds, whether it's for infrastructure or for social or community infrastructure, that there are good, solid, integrated strategic plans for all our capital cities.

"We can continue to plan our cities but we do it in a way that is adapting to significant change, in this case it's climate change and environmental change," Professor Norman said.

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This story Learn from Irma: National plan needed for urban growth first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.