Live, Prosper, Grow: Smart Solutions for a Sustainable Queensland

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-By Jaime McKee

As Australia faces the double-edged sword of population growth and increasing urbanisation, it needs clever solutions to manage its growth, development, and livability. The population of the state of Queensland, in particular, is predicted to double to more than 8 million by the year 2054, with the area seeing about 2,000 new residents every week. To adapt to this growth, Queensland’s Department of Infrastructure and Planning is leading a coordinated statewide government approach to planning, local governance, and infrastructure – “looking forward and delivering now” for livability, prosperity, and sustainability.

The Department of Infrastructure and Planning works closely with all levels of government and community stakeholders to ensure Queensland has the support it needs to face future challenges head-on. To facilitate this function, the department offers a range of services including dispute resolution committees, grants and funding, advice on plumbing and building codes, infrastructure program management, development and implementation of government policies, and access to appropriately zoned and serviced land. It has established frameworks to enhance its own accountability, transparency, stakeholder engagement, and environmental stewardship, and aims to coordinate integrated planning on the state level, as well as to empower communities and regions to effectively and sustainably manage their own interests. The department is in the unique position of working on a regional scale as well as enjoying a broader view of the big picture, and it employs this perspective to good effect, promoting livable and affordable communities while at the same time increasing connectivity between cities and developing overarching infrastructure such as rail, transit, greenfield, and broadband initiatives.

One of the department’s key priorities at present is, of course, anticipating and planning for growth. Its Growth Management initiatives are substantial, and include a holistic view of development which explores linkages between land use planning, infrastructure delivery, economic development, environmental protection, expansion of green space, and affordable housing. Far from merely paying lip service to these aims, the department in fact has a number of concrete plans in place to address them: the Queensland Infrastructure Plan (QIP) links infrastructure delivery with population growth and economic development goals; the Greenspace Strategy seeks to deliver greater recreation and open space areas across Queensland; Valuing the Things We Waste – Queensland’s Waste Avoidance and Efficiency Strategy aims at limiting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing water and energy consumption, increasing renewable power, and planning for waste management and resource recovery needs; ConnectingSEQ, the new Integrated Regional Transport Plan for South East Queensland, provides the blueprint for the state’s future transport needs; and the Queensland Cycle Strategy aims to enhance the existing cycle network and encourage more daily bicycle trips as an alternative to motor vehicle use. Taken together, these strategies represent the Department of Infrastructure and Planning’s holistic view of the future, one which will see both population and economic growth managed in a sustainable way.

Thoughtfully designed processes lie at the heart of many of these initiatives. In a recent interview, Hon Stirling Hinchcliffe, MP, Queensland’s Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, describes how statutory regional planning processes, overseen by regional committees, bring together representatives from government, the construction industry, the tourism and agricultural sectors, social agencies, and non-governmental organisations to tap into issues that are important to stakeholders within many varied sectors. Local communities and citizens at large are also invited to have their say, make submissions, and take part in consultation processes. The department’s community engagement strategy includes developing a suite of community focused tools to explain Queensland’s planning process, and utilising online tools and research to take the pulse of public opinion.

Perhaps not surprisingly, what the public has been calling for as of late is a move toward sustainability. Mr Hinchcliffe describes his department’s approach to sustainability as looking at the “whole range of factors that contribute to a functioning community” – economic, environmental, and social. In both the assessment and planning processes the department undertakes, he says, it values this “triple bottom line”.

The department’s approach seeks to weave sustainability into all of its initiatives. Two of its long-term strategies are to transform the spaces between urban areas into revitalised green spaces or outdoor recreational zones, and to build green space into all new urban developments. Mr Hinchcliffe describes these plans as not just about the conservation of the physical environment, but of an active, outdoor lifestyle as well. He emphasises the importance of retaining the traditional Queensland enjoyment of the outdoors, and while he recognises the challenge of balancing interests of conservation and recreation, his department in fact places a high value on both. As a recent example, the department has recently secured space for trail bike infrastructure on otherwise under-utilised land.

Of course, a key element of any truly sustainable system is affordability, and here, too, the Department of Infrastructure and Planning plays a critical role. The department’s Housing Affordability Strategy aims to “shape livable communities to protect Queenslanders’ quality of life by working closely with local government to plan affordable and sustainable places”. Mr Hinchcliffe acknowledges that housing accessibility is influenced by many factors – some out of the state government’s control – such as market factors, interest rates, population growth, urbanisation, and mortgage deregulation. But at the same time, state and regional policies can have a significant effect on other factors impacting the housing market; the Department of Infrastructure and Planning, therefore, has not shied away from the challenge, and through its planning and approvals processes, and working closely with industry and local governments, it seeks to increase the availability of land for development, and to ensure that new housing infrastructure exemplifies best practices in sustainable urban design.

A commitment to decentralisation is another key focus for the Department of Infrastructure and Planning. Mr Hinchcliffe states that the department is “committed to a program of regionalisation, of capturing and continuing to value the great importance of the decentralised nature of Queensland.” The majority of Queenslanders live outside of Brisbane, and as such there is a solid and established network of regional communities which need support and investment; these communities, says Mr Hinchcliffe, are “vitally important to our economy and our society”. By decentralising a number of government agencies, relocating functions and services to the region, and prioritising regional plans over other statutory planning tools, the department can ensure that these regions have the chance to be vital parts of the state for many years to come.

Here, too, it is critical that planning come about as a result of community and stakeholder engagement. Regional plans identify desired regional outcomes, policies and actions for achieving these outcomes, the future regional land use pattern, regional infrastructure provision, and key environmental, economic and cultural resources to be developed, preserved, or maintained. Developed in partnership with local councils, the community, and stakeholders, plans such as these are intended to benefit those dwelling in the region, including members of indigenous communities. Mr Hinchcliffe is proud that his department has “very strong engagement with indigenous communities throughout the state”, aiming not only to invest in projects of significant value, but also to enter into a unique consultation process. A recent example is the Wyaralong Dam project. Valued at $348 million, the dam will deliver water security to the southeast for decades to come. The project constitutes a partnership with traditional owners in the region, and has contributed significantly to local employment, generating approximately 685 jobs and providing a comprehensive training program. The project will also deliver recreational and tourism opportunities to the area, including multi-use trails, camping and picnic facilities, designed to provide long-term economic and recreational benefits to residents.

The department, of course, also reaches out to and enjoys a strong partnership with a range of players in Queensland’s construction industry. It encourages open and constructive dialogue with partners ranging from multi-national companies to small, locally-based businesses. Through alliance-building and networking, the department is able to help companies deliver significant projects in quick turnaround times. Its government investment, in the wake of the global financial crisis, is also playing a large role in spurring development, and this investment is something that Mr Hinchcliffe would like to see continue well into the coming decades.

Responding to the challenges of population growth, providing long-term planning solutions, building the capacity of Queensland: The Department of Infrastructure and Planning certainly has its work cut out for it. But with solid planning tools in place, and a mandate to entrust greater agency to the hands of regional and local governments, the department is well situated to ensure Queensland has the planning, infrastructure and support it needs to face challenges now and in the future.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:44 AM AEDT