The West Australian

Opinion Piece by UDIA WA CEO Tanya Steinbeck 

The term urban sprawl is a dirty word these days and while no one wants to see a monotonous spread of housing stretch out around our cities, there is a balance needed to the discussion around Perth’s future growth.

In Perth, a diverse supply of new housing is required in order to accommodate our growing population in an affordable and practical way. It is where we locate that housing — and whether it can accommodate changing lifestyles and demographic and economic needs — that is the real question.

UDIA is supportive of a balanced approach to meeting our population’s housing needs. That is, a balance of development in new and existing areas to meet a range of people’s expectations.

While there is a requirement for more infill development in existing areas barriers such as affordability, infrastructure capacity constraints and existing local community expectations mean that there is a need for development in new areas as well.

It is interesting to take a step back and actually look at Perth’s growth pattern and consider whether it is, in fact, “sprawl”. Another way to view Greater Perth is as a series of activity centres or villages which require better connectivity.

If we think of the urban footprint in many places in Europe, it is made up of a series of dense villages, many of which are in close proximity to each other or connected by rapid transport.

They are considered individual places with individual identities, and maybe that is how we could start to consider the activity centres across Greater Perth.

Much of our discussion around urban sprawl is centred around distance from the CBD and how long it takes to commute into the city from wherever your home is located.

The fact is, many people’s lives are centred closer to where they live.

Employment figures are a clear representation of this. In Wanneroo, only 11 per cent of residents work in the CBD, while 28 per cent work within the suburb of Wanneroo and approximately 31 per cent work in a neighbouring suburb.

The numbers are very similar for Cockburn, Joondalup and Armadale.

In Wanneroo, the average commute time is 12.5km, while in Joondalup it is just under 11km.

Under the State Government’s Perth and Peel @ 3.5 million, Joondalup and Armadale are noted as strategic metropolitan centres and Wanneroo and Cockburn are secondary centres.

It is important that we recognise the importance of these types of areas in providing jobs located close to where people live.

The Metronet project, which will create hubs of higher-density development around existing and new key activity centres, will be critical in improving connectivity.

Improving east-west connectivity is another important part of the puzzle that needs to be addressed by initiating projects such as light rail and rapid bus transfer corridors.