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Infrastructure Victoria calls for a density shift in Melbourne

Melbourne should increase density in established suburbs in the south and east to make use of existing infrastructure, according to the just-released 30-year draft strategy from Infrastructure Victoria.

The strategy released this week makes 134 recommendations for infrastructure development over the next three decades, which will see an estimated $100 billion in capital spending.

A key recommendation has been increased densification as “the most sustainable and equitable” solution to managing infrastructure costs for the 9.5 million people expected to call the city home by 2046.

Greenfield development, the strategy says, could cost between two and four times more than infill development in terms of infrastructure costs.

“Victorian cities are expanding and government must continue to plan for new communities,” the strategy says. “But the more Victorian cities sprawl, the harder it is for people to get around, and the more onerous the task of providing high quality infrastructure.”

It says suburbs in Melbourne’s east and south are “particularly well placed” to cope with increased demand on existing infrastructure. The problem, however, is that growth is currently occurring rapidly in the west.

The strategy notes that it is not the role of an infrastructure strategy to determine optimum planning settings, but warned that “rebalancing” growth in the city was unlikely to occur without government intervention.

Affordable housing investment urged

The infrastructure strategy also highlighted the urgent need for investment in affordable housing, finding that up to 100,000 low-income households were not having their needs met, with most demand in metropolitan Melbourne.

“Without bold action to address a lack of supply for at-risk Victorians, the number of Victorians living in insecure accommodation will increase to levels never seen before,” the strategy says.

The strategy recommends extending housing rental assistance to help people stay in the private rental sector; increasing investment in the retrofitting of public housing; and urban planning reforms including fast-tracking affordable housing approval and implementing inclusionary zoning or incentives in areas suitable for medium/high-density housing.

Energy efficient buildings recommended

One need identified by the strategy is a “transition to lower carbon energy supply and use”.

Cost-reflective pricing has been flagged as a priority over the next five years, in order to reduce peak and potentially total energy demand.

Energy efficiency programs in both existing public buildings and all new buildings is also recommended within the next 10 years.

For new buildings, while the strategy notes there are a range of existing initiatives to address energy efficiency, it proposes the establishment of a greenhouse gas emissions target, which would “go a step further and enable holistic consideration of the energy impact of new buildings during design, while allowing the market to determine uptake of cost-effective products”.

Driverless cars and transport pricing

Driverless cars are flagged as one of the biggest unknowns, with the strategy saying current understanding points to uptake of driverless cars affecting transport patterns in about 15 years.

Modelling Infrastructure Victoria commissioned found that “driverless vehicles and/or transport pricing could dwarf the effect of any single major transport project”.

“The challenge for government is to work out how to best support the deployment of these new technologies as they become available, minimising barriers and ensuring their value to the community is maximised.”

Transport pricing reform – a congestion charge on the road network – has been identified as a key way of dealing with autonomous vehicles, which could potentially see a shift from public transport and increased congestion if not managed properly.

But even without AVs, transport pricing was identified as “the most beneficial” recommendation.

“Transport pricing … could deliver more significant reductions in congestion than any new road project, cutting daily commute times and improving freight efficiency.

“A well-designed transport pricing regime would reduce congestion and improve transport choices, including encouraging more trips by walking and cycling, and spread the peak on both roads and public transport.”

The strategy calls for a comprehensive regime to be implemented within 5-10 years.

“We believe this will be a critical reform to change behaviour and manage demand across the network,” the strategy says.

An associated Citizen’s Jury supported the implementation of a congestion charge, but the state government has already rejected the suggestion many regard as political suicide, regardless of benefits.

“We’ve had a very consistent policy about not tolling existing roads,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.

“That remains our policy and that won’t be changing.”

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