Infrastructure Victoria has released the first public draft of its 30 year infrastructure strategy and thus it has opened up for another round of consultation.
The draft strategy makes recommendations in a wide variety of areas and after the new consultation period has concluded, the final version will be presented to the Victorian Government toward the end of the year. Thereafter, the government has 12 months to respond and publish a 5-year infrastructure plan.
It is worth re-iterating this point because we are in effect only half way through the first-run of a process, that according to the enabling legislation, will be repeated every three to five years.
Infrastructure Victoria nominated three specific areas as their 'top picks' for infrastructure investment priority.
There is still quite a way to go for this 'first-run' process that Infrastructure Victoria is undertaking, the draft strategy (and final strategy once it is presented to the Victorian Government) is really just an aggregation and stock-take of infrastructure initiatives that have been floating about in the public domain.
Many of the big ticket transport projects have had preliminary economic analyses conducted and Infrastructure Victoria made recommendations accordingly.
In a handful of cases, Infrastructure Victoria has assessed infrastructure options with a negative economic return (a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of less than 1) but recommended them for more in-depth analysis owing to limited information and assessment tools: the 'Metro 2' project through Fishermans Bend is one of these.
And on the other hand, projects like the Doncaster rail line, which returned a very poor BCR in the preliminary analysis, is recommend not to proceed.
A number of the options we considered for this need did not emerge as priorities; however, there are some projects we would specifically recommend against. These include building a new heavy rail line to Doncaster (ref. DHR) and building a new station at South Yarra (ref. SYM) as part of the delivery of Melbourne Metro. The benefits of these projects do not appear to outweigh the costs, with South Yarra already being very well served by public transport and, in the case of Doncaster, alternative lower cost solutions being available.Victoria's draft 30-year infrastructure strategy, October 2016, page 122
Perhaps the most radical transport recommendation, after the road pricing regime changes, is to take the large bus route map of Melbourne, wipe it clean and start from scratch. Not long after the draft strategy's release, there were calls on social media to bring in Jarrett Walker (of HumanTransit.org) to do in Melbourne what he did to Houston's bus network.
There is a theme across several of our recommendations of moving our rail network towards more of a ‘metro’ style of operation. In practice, this means changing the network from one where train lines often merge as they approach the city to one where lines operate separately, but people often have to change trains to get to their final destination.
It’s a trade-off , but we think the benefits of improved capacity and reliability are worth it, so long as careful planning is put into how people move around the system. This is relevant to introducing the full service uplift delivered by Regional Rail Link, the Melbourne Metro rail project currently underway, and future projects such as reconfiguring the City Loop.
Indeed, on a more local scale, our recommendation to reform the metropolitan bus network will involve similar trade-off s between services that wind around local streets serving many different places and a more efficient and direct network.Victoria's draft 30-year infrastructure strategy, October 2016, page 122
Turning to Infrastructure Victoria's top picks, the number one priority for instance: increasing densities in areas where infrastructure can support it. It would seem to be one of the easier tasks for the state government to implement, given how much higher-density development that currently occurs outside the Plan Melbourne inner-city subregion.
The municipalities of Melbourne, Stonnington, Port Phillip, Maribyrnong and Yarra make up the inner-city subregion and when combined, at the time of writing, have 583 projects on the Urban Melbourne Project Database with all remaining local government areas totaling 698.
There may be more projects located outside the inner-city however the five inner-city councils contain approximately double the amount of total residential units in the pipeline: 95,000 in the inner-city subregion versus 51,000 elsewhere.
A 700-odd project, 50,000-dwelling pipeline is a significant tool that can be used to illustrate to those potentially antagonistic toward the idea of increasing densities in existing suburban areas how it is not all about skyscrapers.
It's a safe bet many will run a critical eye over the prominence of increased densities in the government plan, due 15 months from now (assuming the final 30-year strategy is presented before the end of the year); ditto the language used.
Infrastructure Victoria's number three priority - investing in social and affordable housing - is not as clear when attempting to discern a possible direction the state government may take.
While I acknowledge there is an enormous body of work going on at DELWP and the Victorian Planning Authority - Fishermans Bend's vision, Plan Melbourne's refresh, national employment clusters throughout the metropolitan area to name but a few - there is still a frustrating lack of discussion on affordable housing policy and mechanisms. Please, let's change this.