The Grattan Institute has released a report stating, among other things, that population growth has had little to no impact on the average distance and duration of metropolitan Australians’ commute to work.
The National Growth Area Alliance represents the 5 million people who live in Australia’s fast growing outer suburbs. That’s a lot of people, but they are not necessarily “average” and do not have the same everyday experience as people living in inner or middle suburbs of our capital cities. Australia’s fast growing outer suburbs are united by a set of distinct circumstances which need to be considered when planning infrastructure.
The NGAA’s understanding of commute distance and duration – built on data collected in the 2016 Census, studies by auto associations nationally and real-life community experiences gathered through 21 local government planning and consultation processes and our own National Nightmare Commute Day – is very different to the Grattan Institute’s.
We know that residents of the fast-growing outer suburbs travel further and spend more money getting to work than their middle or inner suburb counterparts. Census data shows, for example, the different experiences between living in Jordan Springs, a new suburb near Penrith in Sydney’s west and Berala, a middle ring suburb of Sydney. The Jordan Springs resident spends on average $109 travelling 165 km per week to work, while the Berala resident spends $51 traveling 78km.
Thousands of commuters catalogued their commutes on social media during National Nightmare Commute Day. They documented their commutes of up to two hours each way, often stuck on heavily congested roads or overcrowded trains not designed to cope with the traffic caused by rapid population growth. They are travelling to jobs in their chosen profession which are located a long way from the suburbs where they can afford to live.
Despite the fact that Australia’s fast growing outer suburbs have the highest job growth rate (3.3% compared to capital city average of 2.4%) , the number of new jobs cannot keep pace with the number of people moving to new developments further away from established employment hubs.
In 2016 there were 1.52 million jobs located in Australia’s fast growing outer suburbs (12.1% of national employment, up from 9.6% in 2006). They are home to a workforce of 2.21 million people (18.7% of the national workforce, up from 14% a decade earlier).
While businesses are also growing rapidly, and new knowledge intensive industries are replacing traditional manufacturing, the pace is simply too slow. The solution is to encourage more business, government, education and health employment hubs to be located where people already live - in the fast growing outer suburbs.
Some aspects of the Grattan Institute’s report have a disappointing tendency to reinforce negative and incorrect stereotypes about the outer suburbs (are five million people really ‘victims of urban sprawl’ ?) but there are also a number of areas of common ground with NGAA’s policy positions and research findings. These include the need for better planning and assessment of infrastructure projects, consideration of smaller scale infrastructure fixes and reinforcement of the opportunities provided by growth, including through migration.
It is time for Federal and State Governments to catch up with the fast growing outer suburbs. Communities and economies on the outskirts of our capital cities are booming – more than 2600 people move to an outer suburb every week and five million people are already there. Infrastructure planning and investment – from roads and trains through to schools and hospitals – needs to match that pace.
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