Is it time for disruption in urban planning?

by David Everton, Director, Government Relations

Published on
March 17, 2017

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2017 is a big year for urban planning in Queensland. New Acts, Regulations, Policies and Provisions, Planning Schemes, and Regional Plans will all emerge this year. But how much will stay the same and how much will change?

How different will all of these plans really be?

Planning is happening all around us, but how often do we ask, why do we plan?

I’ve had a quick look around on the relevant websites and the closest thing I can find is the following:

planning laws provide the basis for securing the liveability, sustainability and prosperity of our communities, both now and into the future.

There is no greater challenge to our liveability, sustainability and prosperity than housing affordability.

The higher the proportion of one’s pay cheque going towards your house, the less is being spent on other things – this is Maslow 101.

In south-east Queensland — much like every other city or region in the world — as we push further and further out in search of land, the lifetime costs of connecting, servicing and traversing these distances grow exponentially.

Land is in short supply. The time from when a blank piece of land becomes somebody’s house is years — people on either side of the industry will probably say ‘usually around six or seven’.

This is due to constraints, some of which are artificial. Planning is a market intervention, but is it improving our welfare or not?

On the flipside, we keep hearing that we are heading towards an apartment oversupply.

Why does this juxtaposition exist?

It is because the planning system rewards conformity and punishes innovation.

It is easier and less risky to do what has always been done and is expected, than to do something different.

It is easier and less risky to roll-out low-density suburbia than trying something different. It is easier and less risky to make our apartments higher and higher than to try something different.

This will remain the same until the planning system itself innovates. The good news is that it is ripe for disruption and innovation.

Regulated industries are vulnerable to information-driven disrupters. When the law implicitly or explicitly limits competition, businesses have little, if any, incentive to innovate. The taxi industry in Queensland is just one example. Countless other industry sectors have also fallen far behind the digital revolution.

What if the property industry had an Uber moment and decided to do something like build first, ask questions later — it has always been easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

If the end result was quicker housing cheaper, what would the outcome be? I’m not sure, but I hope one day I find out.