Taylor Burrell Barnett

3 Recommendations from the State Infrastructure Strategy

Author

Trent Will
Senior Associate

01 Nov 2021

Picture WA in the year 2042. Will we be getting around in autonomous vehicles? Will we still be using fossil fuels for energy? Will Perth break out of its dullsville tag and become a true global city? These are among the many questions the State Infrastructure Strategy contemplates.

Released in July this year, the State Infrastructure Strategy will be the state’s first, prepared by the newly formed Infrastructure WA – an independent body to advise the Government on infrastructure projects. The draft Strategy makes recommendations across a range of sectors including Transport, Health, Energy, Climate Change and Urban Planning.

When many of us think of infrastructure we need in 20 years time, we think of things such as railways, highways, hospitals, ports and airports. But the Strategy doesn’t just consider these ‘bricks and mortar’ projects, also examining the need for digital connectivity, Aboriginal culture and heritage, climate policy and financial management of infrastructure.

Why do we need it?

Our three and four year election cycles are necessary for a functioning democracy, but often mean Governments don’t look very far into the future when it comes to planning and infrastructure needs. With regard to infrastructure, we know it is critical to look further into the future and consider our needs for the next 5, 10, 20 years and beyond. The State Infrastructure Strategy is intended to break this cycle and offer an apolitical vision for infrastructure over the next 20 years.

The Recommendations

The strategy contains 88 core recommendations (and a number of sub-recommendations) pertaining to the state’s infrastructure needs. Here are three that piqued my interest:

Recommendation 22 – Action on Urban Consolidation  

I was lucky enough to attend the launch of the Strategy in July. The Premier and Minister spoke about the strategy, followed by a Q&A where they were joined by the Chairman and CEO of Infrastructure WA. The launch was as can be expected for new Government initiatives – kudos and commendation for the hard work that had been put into the strategy and many high-level comments around what the strategy is meant to achieve. But toward the end of the Q&A, the panellists were asked if they could implement just one of the recommendations, what would it be? Expecting to hear the name of a project generating jobs and growth, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the CEO of Infrastructure WA respond by referencing this recommendation – action on urban consolidation. It’s not something you necessarily think of when you think of infrastructure needs, but it is vitally important.

Whilst there’s certainly still a need and a market for greenfields development, the cost of delivering infrastructure to greenfields areas according to the draft strategy, is somewhere between two and four times that of an infill project. While the actual figures may be debated, it is clear there are benefits in encouraging more high-quality infill development.

At present, Perth has a density target of 47% infill development. The strategy points out this target pales in comparison to that of Melbourne (70%) and Adelaide (85%). Moreover, we’re not on track to meet the current target.

To address this, the strategy suggests incentives should be examined specifically for infill development – which may include stamp duty concessions, housing grants and Government partnerships to deliver affordable housing in infill areas. The strategy is also clear that this should not compromise design outcomes and encourages the continued application of Design WA.

Recommendations 59 –Light Rail infrastructure

Light rail has been on the Government agenda a few times over the years, but it’s never got that much ‘tracktion’. The MAX light rail project which was heavily spruiked in 2010 but cancelled a few years later. Other states have had their own troubles with light rail projects, so it’s been tough for any successive Government to put this back on the agenda. This is the great thing about an independent decision-making body for infrastructure decisions.

Notwithstanding the previous challenges with light rail, it’s been a decade since it was put on the public agenda; the transport system has changed; technology has changed; the economy has changed – maybe it’s worth another look? We believe light rail can be a great solution to our congestion and accessibility problems. Historically however, the high cost of infrastructure has been a barrier to delivery.

City of Stirling have taken on the challenge, with a bold vision for “Trackless Trams” to offer contemporary, sustainable transport that is less disruptive and more cost effective to build while retaining many of the benefits of light rail. The project is now progressing with the second stage business case which TBB is excited to be involved with, working with lead consultant SMEC. Delivering the benefits of light rail at a fraction of the set up costs could be the game changer we have been looking for.

Recommendation 11 – Net Zero Emissions

Infrastructure based projects can be attributed to 70% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Infrastructure therefore has a big role to play in addressing climate change.

One of the earlier recommendations in the Strategy is to embed a net zero emissions target across infrastructure projects, stating:

Infrastructure that is not prepared for a net zero emissions future risks loss of value and restricted finance.

The Strategy is also clear by affirming responsibility starts with the Government. It calls for the Government to implement the WA Climate Policy and deliver on the net zero emissions target by 2050.

What’s next?

With the public comment period recently having closed, comments are now under review. The Strategy has a series of steps before it becomes a fully-fledged strategy, including a review from the Premier and being tabled in Parliament. A final strategy is expected by September 2022.

With 88 core recommendations the strategy will no doubt be a change agent for infrastructure in our state. If you’d like to chat through any of the recommendations and what they might mean for your future projects, feel free to reach out to me ([email protected]) or any of the team here.

Author

Trent Will
Senior Associate

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