Thursday, June 13, 2024

Canberra needs more infrastructure to support population growth, says Barr

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Delivering the state of the territory address on Wednesday, Barr said the past 10 years had seen the city grow faster than the nation’s average.

He said maintaining this kind of sustained population growth — something he is in favour of – will demand a more sophisticated approach to infrastructure.

This is especially true of housing. While the ACT doesn’t suffer from the severe shortages of some other Australian cities, an average of 2.3 people per household means there is little slack in the property market. Especially when you consider many of the 36,000 university students in the territory may prefer more space and privacy than they currently have.

Barr said the suburban model developed for Canberra in the 50s and 60s was no longer working for the modern businesses. He said the ACT’s recent planning changes were the first step towards ensuring Canberra would be a good place to live in the future.

“One of the joys of being 111 is you have some pieces of infrastructure that are that old, so we face a dual task of needing to build new, but also needing to replace some of that aging infrastructure,” he said.

“We want more people living in our CBD, but we will also need new suburbs. the approach to meeting the housing supply needs to be multifaceted. It can’t just be infill, nor can it just be out in the suburbs.”

A roof over one’s head is essential to living, but when you’re talking about building a liveable city, it’s not sufficient. New developments on the outskirts of Melbourne and Sydney have revealed the problems inherent in expanding housing beyond the reach of schools, hospitals, and public transport.

Barr appears conscious of this, saying the territory government must consider the proximity of services when planning new subdivisions. Steps have already been taken in this direction, like the re-nationalisation of the Canberra Hospital at Bruce, and the Canberra Institute of Technology Hub in Woden.

A lifelong Canberran, Barr riffed with members of the audience about the ways Canberra has become a much more liveable city throughout his life. He said while it was a lower priority than hospitals and roads, cultural and nightlife infrastructure formed part of the agenda too.

“We couldn’t have a discussion about infrastructure in this city without mentioning things like convention centres, live music venues, theatres being part of that discussion, and they are part of our full infrastructure plan,” Barr said.

“A lot of people tell me how much more impressed they are that Canberra finally has bars and nighttime music venues … I’m old enough to remember when all the shops closed at midday on Saturday and there was bugger all else happening the rest of the week.

“We have prioritised health and housing infrastructure …  but we are now turning our minds to what the next five to 20 years will look like.”

The kind of infrastructure pipeline under discussion here is ambitious, but the ACT government has formed in this area. To the intense displeasure of the Sydney-Melbourne commentariat, Canberra has been named the most liveable city in the world twice by the OECD during their tenure.

The territory’s reliance on international and interstate students as a source of population and economic growth makes this not only desirable but necessary to continue to attract them in world-leading numbers.


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