Covid forces massive infrastructure rethink
THE often-maligned outer suburbs of major Australian cities are back in favour due to a rethink about where new infrastructure is most needed as the effects of Covid-19 dramatically reshape urban life.
This is a key message from Infrastructure Australia’s latest report, released on Friday 3 September.
Frankston and its long-awaited metro rail extension is poised to benefit from the advisory body’s call for a new investment direction to ensure big cities and their suburbs – as well as regional centres and small country towns – remain liveable, says Committee for Greater Frankston CEO Ginevra Hosking.
Infrastructure Australia’s 2021 Australian Infrastructure Plan states that a wave of people wanting to work from home – leaving major CBDs for outer suburbs and regions – has shifted national infrastructure needs.
Infrastructure Australia’s chief executive Romilly Madew said public transport infrastructure would be more about how we move people around greater Melbourne rather than how we bring people to the CBD.
On working from home, IA’s chief of policy and research Peter Colacino said the longer the pandemic lasts, the more accustomed people become to working from home. And the more they invest in home office equipment, the easier it becomes.
Ginevra Hosking says “we are unlikely to see a return to the days when we all piled into Melbourne’s CBD for work, education, entertainment and more”.
“The stats are in – about a tenth of CBD workers will not return to city centres. They want to stick to their suburbs or move even further out – working near where they live. The retro coastal holiday house of 2019 is now officially home.
“This is why iconic Melbourne restaurants such as Flower Drum, Movida, Supernormal and Cumulus have ‘followed’ their customers and are delivering to inner suburbs, Frankston, Mornington Peninsula and further afield.
“In Melbourne, the suburbs ruled in the 1970s – and they are once again. Frankston’s ‘retro revival’ is well underway. CBD revitalisation projects include residential towers, outdoor dining, improved public spaces and renewing Frankston’s northern gateway, Nepean Highway.
“As we rebuild greater Melbourne, established outer suburbs like ours will come into their own. We have health, education and social infrastructure to support decentralised population growth. Frankston has a compact CBD bordered by our famous beach and foreshore. We have great schools, parks and gardens, and much more.
“Yet we limit Frankston’s economic growth by burdening our CBD with unaffordable car parking and inadequate public transport. The area around the station is constrained and filled with parked commuter cars all day.”
Ms Hosking said a key insight of IA’s report was “changes in living patterns mean public transport infrastructure investment should focus on established suburbs now carrying a higher population burden”.
“Moving people around the suburbs where they live is now the focus; the daily commute to Melbourne CBD has gone, although we’ll still need fast connections to our capital.”
Ms Hosking said the IA report advises charging for commuter parking at stations, introducing urban congestion fees, and replacing the federal fuel excise with per-kilometre fees. “Car travel is set to become more expensive, which makes better local public transport even more important.
“People need a variety of localised transport options. I might still need to train to Melbourne some days (and shouldn’t park all day in Frankston’s CBD), but I’ll also work in a new office in central Frankston, and get there by using an on-demand bus – or take the electric car if I need to visit clients. Some days I’ll work from home.”
The keystone of revitalising Frankston’s CBD (and the wider region) is the much-discussed Frankston train line extension, she said.
“Getting the backbone of Frankston’s public transport network right is crucial. We need the ability to move our 140,000 residents around their own suburbs by public transport. Extending the electrified metro line 5km to Langwarrin will be a transport game changer and Frankston certainly needs to change its game.
“We need to rebalance our lives – and Australia’s cities – and politicians have a generational opportunity to do this now. But Australia must infill the crucial missing infrastructure links – like the long-neglected Frankston rail extension.”