As Victoria's population soars, will large planning and transport initiatives keep pace?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics released its most recent tranche of estimated resident population data yesterday and once again it sees Victoria well out in front on both raw numbers and percentage growth.

The estimated resident population in Victoria at the end of the March quarter this year was 6,290,700 representing a change of 149,400 or 2.4% growth since the same time in the previous year.

As other media outlets have noted, you need to look all the way back to the 1960s to find an equivalent time when Victoria was adding population as fast as it is now.  

Nationally, the ERP is sitting at 24,511,800 with 389,100 new residents of Australia - that represents a 1.6% growth rate since the end of the March 2016 quarter. 

The current narrative has Victoria and New South Wales as the two magnets for population growth - NSW grew by 123,300 to 7,837,700 (1.6%) with Queensland nearing edging closer to 5 million residents - its March 2017 ERP is 4,907,600 with 75,400 new residents representing 1.6% growth.

Context is a beautiful thing because not 5 years ago the story was so very different.  How's this for even, distributed population growth? 

The various ERP and growth numbers for each state and territory at the end of each March quarters in 2012 and 2017.

  March 2012 March 2017
Victoria 5,603,100 - 82,500 - 1.5% 6,290,700 - 149,400 - 2.4%
New South Wales 7,272,800 - 73,500 - 1.0% 7,837,700 - 123,300 - 1.6%
Queensland 4,537,700 - 76,400 - 1.7% 4,907,600 - 75,400 - 1.6%
Western Australia 2,410,600 - 73,300 - 3.1% 2,576,000 - 18,400 - 0.7%
South Australia 1,650,600 - 14,100 - 0.9% 1,721,000 - 10,300 - 0.6%
Tasmania 512,100 - 1,300 - 0.3% 520,100 - 3,100 - 0.6%
Northern Territory 233,300 - 3,000 - 1.3% 245,000 - 300 - 0.1%
Australian Capital Territory 373,100 - 7,000 - 1.9% 409,100 - 7,200 - 1.8%
Australia 22,596,500 - 331,200 - 1.5% 24,511,800 - 389,100 - 1.6%

In 2012 Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and most importantly Western Australia all added around the same number of people.  It's generally accepted that the 2012 numbers were a reflection of the mining boom sending people west and north and now that is over, Queensland is holding its own, but Western Australia has fallen off a cliff.

Despite the past decade of evidence of Victoria leading the population growth pack, you'd be a fool to think that this most recent peak - 150,000 new residents in a year - is the new norm.  

That said, Melbourne is and always will be a large city, one that hasn't seen all that significant change in how we transport ourselves.

It's been an interesting task to keep one eye on the state Liberals continuing population policy development and consultation.  At this stage of the game is very much focused on regions outside of Melbourne.

Growing regional cities is a noble goal, that is of course only if there are plans in place to grow employment in them at the same time, therefore reducing pressure on the long and thin transport routes between the regional cities and Melbourne.  Outlining how population decentralisation will work with existing regional city economies would make a lot of interested parties far more comfortable.

However, one large gap in the opposition's policy development process is Melbourne itself.  Is it assumed a business-as-usual approach to transport within Melbourne will continue?  How is that acceptable?

Another angle on the ABS data outlined above is that it highlights how people are attracted to the big cities, where the bigger economic opportunities are to be found.  And it's a safe assumption that Melbourne will continue to attract the most people in Victoria, regardless of a solid & well-executed population decentralisation policy from the opposition (or government).

Therefore, the same broad challenges exist - auto-centricity within Melbourne, a public transport network that is slow to respond to population growth (not to mention the focus of the primary mode is on getting people into and out of central Melbourne rather than also facilitating greater suburb-to-suburb commuting), continuing fringe-belt growth.

As we enter the 4th year of the first term of the Andrews Government we're getting close to the release of big infrastructure-related documents that will inform growth and development decisions going forward. 

The first big release is the draft Fishermans Bend Framework - the urban renewal area's website states 'Spring 2017' as the release date - and state government's response to Infrastructure Victoria's 30-year infrastructure strategy, due by year's end.

Throw in the low-key launch of Transport for Victoria - it was organised earlier this year and but doesn't have the presence that Transport for New South Wales or Transport for London enjoy - which reportedly will have the task of whole-of-state transport planning; one also assumes this is where updates to heavy rail, tram and bus network development plans will come from.

It's all well and good to point to examples of where shovels are in the ground, but the state ability to get things moving, creating employment and addressing short-term needs is established, it now needs to provide a clearer picture of its vision and the programmes of work that will deal not just with high immigration numbers and its impact on the transport network in the short-term but where we're headed in future. 


Lead image credit: flickr

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