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Prime Mover Magazine

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Michael Kilgariff

A welcome dose of common sense

December 2017

No one seriously disputes the notion that Australia’s cities can and should function more efficiently. In light of their expected growth in the years ahead, it will be imperative for our CBD areas to find ways to accommodate significantly larger populations.
Yet, the plans we make have to be realistic, and driven by a recognition that not everything can be delivered on the back of a bicycle, or via drone.

Dreams of turning cities into vast, vehicle-free spaces might make for a compelling promotional video – but we do ourselves no favours if we don’t factor freight movement into our future vision of what Australia’s cities should look like.

The unfortunate reality is that, as things stand, Australia’s cities are not freight friendly – and too often it can seem as though policy-makers are actively working to make them even less so.

This is an inevitable consequence of planning systems that do not require authorities to properly take account of freight movement, and have failed for decades to adequately protect key freight corridors against the impacts of urban encroachment.

Australia is already one of most highly urbanised countries in the world, and a significant proportion of the residential and employment growth projected to occur here in the years ahead will be heavily concentrated in CBD areas.

It follows that the larger our cities grow, the larger the freight task gets. Accordingly, if we wish to grow our cities and ensure their continuing functionality and amenity, we must adopt policies that can support that increasing freight task.

Yet all too often, policy-makers are adopting policies that do the opposite, and impede urban freight delivery – especially in CBD areas – by limiting access for heavy vehicles and imposing other unrealistic ambitions, such as permanent pedestrian-only zones in city centres.

A lack of adequate street loading zones, as well as new residential and commercial buildings with poor (or non-existent) freight delivery facilities, are likewise making CBD delivery a more cumbersome and costly exercise.

Perversely, the growing difficulty of freight delivery in Australian cities is occurring during a period where growth in e-commerce is fuelling expectations of faster delivery timeframes and lower shipping costs.

It is important to remember that a central business district is, first and foremost, a place of business. If we want businesses to grow and create jobs, then ensuring they can have their essential goods delivered in a timely fashion is a fairly basic requirement.

It is therefore especially pleasing to note that some high-level support for that stance is beginning to emerge, most recently with the release of Shifting the Dial: 5 year productivity review, which was recently released by the Productivity Commission.
The Commission’s focus on urban congestion is especially welcome. As the report notes, the problem is already costing our economy $19 billion a year and, without remedial action, that figure is set to grow to over $31 billion by 2031.

The report also specifically notes concerns around corridor protection raised in the Australian Logistics Council’s (ALC) own submission to the Commission in late 2016, and calls upon governments to address the ad-hoc and anticompetitive planning policies that have given rise to the congestion problems that now affect our cities, and hamper the efficiency of our supply chains.

The ALC was also heartened by the Commission’s observation that “infrastructure decisions could be enhanced by taking out the ‘Utopia’ factor in their preparation,” which is sound advice for policy-makers at the federal, state and local government levels.

This remark provides a timely injection of common sense into debates around urban planning. A more practical approach is precisely what is needed to secure better outcomes for the freight logistics industry, as work continues on the development of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy.

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