[CAMWEST-discuss] Housing, roads, planning and population

Ian Macindoe imacian at bigpond.net.au
Sun Aug 13 05:01:35 UTC 2006

Senate Enquiry into Australia's future oil supply and alternative transport fuels 

Hansard: Enquiry by the Commonwealth Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, Tuesday 11 July 2006, Sydney.  (1) 
Senators in attendance: Senators Hutchins, Joyce, Milne, Siewert, Sterle and Webber 

The vast populations of the modern world are the product of fossil fuel.  This enquiry attempts to deal with the alien concept of managing Australia's oil-dependent population without plentiful oil. Dr Bakhtiari, an expert witness on OPEC supplies, spoke very well and at length on the general problems attending expected petroleum decline.  He was amazed to hear that Australia has sold all its gas off at a fixed price to the Chinese.  He has no idea of the forced population growth in Australia, nor of how prevailing models in planning increase oil-depletion vulnerability in our cities.  This vulnerability was the subject of a report on mortgages and oil vulnerability by Dr Jago Dodson, Research Fellow, Urban Research Program, and Dr Neil Sipe, Head of School of Environmental Planning,  Griffith University, using an index they call VAMPIRE - vulnerability assessment for mortgages, petrol, interest rate expenditure. 

Dodson and Sipe combined ABS census data on car dependence with data on the proportion of households with mortgages, using income rather than socioeconomic status, because "for assessing the impact of rising fuel prices on these households, income was a better measure than socioeconomic status-largely because those at the very lowest end of the socioeconomic spectrum were less likely to be  homeowners."  They stated that they had chosen to investigate mortgage vulnerability because the Reserve Bank now addresses rising fuel costs as a key issue inflationary factor in control of interest rates.  Perhaps alluding to the new industrial laws, they also suggested that wages might not be able to keep up with increases in transport and interest rate costs. 

Their report covers five Australian cities and is relevant because the planning issues they flag are all impacts of population growth and its political mismanagement. 

They find oil and mortgage vulnerability particularly in "the outer growth corridors of Brisbane" and "the western suburbs of the Gold Coast, away from the coastline", and in "the outer western suburbs along the growth corridors of Sydney.  The greatest vulnerability in Melbourne is "distributed in a broad arc right around the outside of Melbourne".  In Perth there is a "phenomenon of a lower vulnerability in a city with a much higher vulnerability arc around the outer and middle suburbs." 

They feel that these patterns in Australian cities "are primarily related to the operation of housing markets which tend to provide the cheaper and newer housing in outer suburban and fringe localities. Households seeking to purchase a home for the first time are more likely to locate in those areas, and those on modest and lower incomes who are seeking home ownership are also more likely to locate in those areas because of the way that the housing market is structured. However, this means that they run into the problem of the relatively poor provision of public transport services in fringe and outer suburban areas compared to the inner-city localities." 

They date this back to the "shift in Australian transport planning practice that occurred after the Second World War, when planners began to move away from the previous Australian model of largely transit oriented development based around the existing rail and tramway lines to modes of urban development based on the private motor car and the provision of roads and major freeways." 

They see this "as the key point of vulnerability in the context of the rising fuel prices in Australian cities." 

They display little confidence in the ability of State Planning Departments to deal with the increasingly serious need for better public transport: 

"In terms of our suggestions or recommendations regarding improvements to public transport, we think there needs to be dedicated public transport statutory type authorities within each state government that stand alone and are independent from the immediate departmental control of state bureaucracies. " 

They see some "scope for expansion of rail services to new fringe estates, particularly in the growth corridor areas of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne and remark that ". Rowville in Melbourne's outer south-east" has been waiting for a promised train line for almost 40 years, and now also faces rising fuel prices. 

To claims that the states cannot afford public transport they pointed out that billions of dollars are already spent on roads: 

"If you look at the total transport budget that state governments currently expend, there is actually multiple billions of dollars available for transport. The trouble is that most of it is currently dedicated to providing major road infrastructure such as freeways and tunnels. If you add in tollways, the sums are in the multiple billions." 

They suggest that these "projects can be postponed in the budgetary process and the money [for them] could be transferred to the funding of specifically local scale public transport services to make sure that the outer suburbs have as high a quality of service as those in the inner city." 

They saw "a need to improve local-scale amenity in terms of walking and cycling and access to local shopping trips so that households, in responding to rising fuel prices, are able, even if they do not make all their trips by public transport, to start to cut out a few of those minor local trips that might save them money over time. Those primarily involve walking to the local shops and to employment and other services." 

The following exchange between Senator Webber (of Perth) and Dr Dodson is indicative of the problem of paradigms that pass like ships in the night.  Webber is not able to consider that the city might have to stop growing: 

Senator Webber - ".What do you mean by the  provision of local public transport in terms of that swap from developing roads to developing local public transport? It is much cheaper for me to build a major road or extend the freeway to allow people to get into the city to work than it is to build the train line. It is quicker. Surely, it is not necessarily an either/or, if I am going to allow the city to keep developing. It has to be both." 

Dr Dodson- ". given the concern that has been expressed to this committee about rising fuel prices, there is strong potential that there will be less demand for those radial roads that provide access to the CBD." 

Dr Sipe added that, " In south-east Queensland with the latest regional plan, basically about 20 per cent of the transport funds are spent for public transport and 80 per cent is for roads. Some of those roads are not necessarily to service newly developing areas. They are trying to move traffic faster through the city by spending $3 billion on a tunnel. We would really question whether, in 10 years, there is going to be anybody who can afford to pay the toll and the fuel to use the tunnel. It is really that issue of bringing things a little bit more into balance, because clearly at this point in time the roads lobby is in charge. 

Dr Dodson pointed to a "serious inequity [that governments should address through their transport policies] when you have your lowest and most modest income households in localities on the fringe, where now they are facing high transport costs." 

Senator Joyce of Queensland exclaimed that putting in rail infrastructure would require "moving houses and roads and changing everything around".  She concluded, "A lot of this is a nirvana; it is never going to happen because the cost of putting in new rail networks will be prohibitive." 

Dr Dodson responded by suggested that the very high cost of buying up inner-city real-estate and re-routing roads through the centre of Brisbane did not seem to be deterring the Queensland government from its project to build tunnels for inner urban road traffic. 

(1) General Hansard reference is http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard 
(Based on an uncorrected proof of evidence taken before the committee, available under the condition that it is recognised as such.) 

Ian Macindoe
10 Barnetts Rd
Winston Hills NSW 2153
(+ 61 2) 9639 4654
imacian at bigpond.net.au
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