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Urban Sprawl in Melbourne, Soon for Sydney

April 1, 2011

Ted Baillieu was elected Premier of Victoria promising more urban sprawl. See my post about this dated November 30, 2010, under the heading True to form, Victorian Libs to Increase Urban Sprawl.Melbourne of course is already the urban sprawl leader in Australia with a disgracefully low level of its new housing being provided in built-up areas and a shamefully high level being squeezed out to the urban fringe.

No one should forget that when you pump up population growth, the city either goes up or out. And Melbourne is really going out.


The Australian Financial Review only sees urban sprawl as good news. This is the dumbest of the populationist positions. Melbourne’s population rose by two percent in the last financial year and leading the growth were the outer Melbourne government areas of Wyndham, Melton, Cardina and Whittlesea. In fact these were the fastest growing local government areas in the nation. They added more than 33,000 people at growth rates not less than six percent. Today’s Age also describes how that in the nine years since Melbourne’s growth outstripped Sydney’s, five out of every eight new residents had to settle over 20km from the GPO.

Bravo. Just what Ted Baillieu campaigned for. With a bit of extra effort we can really increase that sprawl. And celebrate the quick gobbling of high value farmland and the horrific strain on infrastructure budgets.

Sydney achieves 70 percent of its population growth by urban infill, lifting density in established suburbs where infrastructure is already in place, and relieving the strain on the city limits. (Funny that – I had been led to believe the NSW planning system was a disaster, getting nothing right). Barry O’Farrell has promised to hand serious planning powers back to local government which will see no more apartments built along rail corridors – which is good planning practice – and hence more sprawling suburbs on the city’s fringe, with services and public works straining to catch-up. He may, however, be talked out of this by serious policy people in his own party and by the business lobby. This is one of the most urgent debates to occur within his cabinet.

The population enthusiasts lust after bigger and bigger annual immigration targets. Get us to 100 million, would be their ultimate rallying cry. But they never take into account the way their enthusiasm stresses our cities.



  1. April 1, 2011 9:46 am

    Melton existing rail and freeway, supposed farmland between it and current urban fringe surrounds a town called Rockbank..many rocks clearly visable in paddocks probably best suited for urban development or alternatively Rock Farming.

    Wyndham near Werribee also has rail and freeway plus nearby interstate passenger airport Avalon and is close to the Bay

    Cardina again near existing rail and freeway near Pakenham also close to Western Port Bay which has been proposed for a future deep water port to service Melbourne

    Whittlesea close to the Hume Freeway Epping rail line and Craigeburn (Sydney-Melb) rail and not far from Tullamarine International Airport

    Bob these sites offer far more suitability for suburban growth than virtualy everything even remotely on the radar for infrastructure starved Sydney

    • Bob Carr permalink
      April 1, 2011 12:01 pm

      A fine thing that 70 percent of Melbourne’s growth comes from the fringe ?

      Wouldn’t there be environmental and fiscal advantages in getting that closer to 50 percent ?

      • April 1, 2011 12:13 pm

        Melbourne has some geographic advantages over Sydney in that its basin is not surrounded by so many high mountain ranges.

        Outside Melbourne’s Western fringe of new growth corridor you have Geelong & Ballarat

        To the Northern Fringe Bendigo

        All established cities which are employment hubs beyond this new suburban growth. Regionalisation

  2. Jimbo permalink
    April 1, 2011 10:52 am

    Good piece. Altho I disagree with Bob’s view on population growth and immigration, I’ve always supported a growth strategy based on increased densities. Sydney has around 2000 people per square kilometre in its urbanised areas (ie, excluding national parks & rural areas). All but one of the nine cities ranked above Sydney in the World’s Most Liveable Cities index have much higher population densities – sometimes, more than double Sydney’s density.

    Think about the most interesting suburbs in Sydney – they’re the ones with more people living in apartments, because the population base is large enough to support a variety of restaurants and entertainment venues. The boring suburbs are those with rows and rows of houses.

    We need to have this debate.

    • April 1, 2011 12:50 pm

      Jimbo in regards to the more interesting suburbs with people in apartments, do you think that may possibly be that most people in apartments are couples or singles without kids, while those in houses further out in boring areas might have kids ?

      Could the average disposable income in these 2 areas play a part in the difference you mention ?

      • Bob Carr permalink
        April 1, 2011 4:33 pm

        Coincidentally, today I learnt Sydney’s rail network carries 280 million passengers a year, Melbourne’s 100 million. Sydney’s rail patronage is growing 5.2 percent p.a., but Melbourne’s 10 percent p.a. Any views on the implications ?

  3. April 1, 2011 5:15 pm

    Bob re: the Sydney rail 280 mill passengers per year Melbourne rail 100 mill passengers per year

    Add 180 million tram passengers per year for Melbourne Bob

    • Bob Carr permalink
      April 1, 2011 8:40 pm

      And you would have to add the much greater number carried by Sydney buses. It is a vaster system than that of Melbourne’s tramways. Overall ( adding up all modes ) I think the figures are : 27 percent of Sydney carried by pt and 17 percent of Melbourne.

  4. Peter Pando permalink
    April 2, 2011 8:24 am

    Dear Mr Carr,

    Suburbia, when it is the garden-variety, at very least preserves topsoil, but it does more than that. The answer to the issue of farmland is not to build highrises on the soils supporting gardens – they’re fertile soils, and potentially even arable some day if necessary. The groves, forests and gardens they support are oxygen producers too, something that a blind push towards consolidation won’t achieve. A mandatory garden space around every high rise, on the ratio of the proposed Barangaroo highrise to the gardens around it or better might resolve that problem (as much as that development’s intrusion into the harbour is a terrible idea).

    The need for farmland is concerning, and the innovation of vertical farming is certainly the way the way to head, not the style of horizontal farming we’re used to seeing. There are many conservation advantages, and it really should be encouraged.

    • April 2, 2011 1:03 pm

      Doesn’t basics Physics to elevate things such as people, plants, furniture, office equipment..etc requires Energy to be expended.
      And if I had expensive equipment/furniture on one of these vertical floors, I probably would not be OK that are large quantity of water/soil and possible outbreak of micro-organisms and mosquito’s was close and above me.
      Australia is the 17th most Urbanised Nation in the World at 89% and if you look at the coastal areas with retirees from Hervey Bay, Qld to Victor Harbor, South Aust the figure of people hanging on the coastal edge of our continent probably blows out past 90%
      Benchmarked against other large landmass Advanced Western Economies USA + Canada we are about 8% more urbanised that each of them.
      I personally think cities no matter how high they are still in most cases still require food, energy and resources to be taken to them and in the case of high rise lifted..they also require waste to be removed
      The denser the Middle/CBD of these areas are the more congestion needs to be overcome moving goods in and waste out
      When we get to a stage where we are looking to move dirt, water and nutrients to the top of a building to grow a crop in the middle of a city I ask ~ why do we need the city ?
      We could have 150,000 people living around Bathurst with a minimal environmental impact who mostly would live close enough to ride bicycles to work, have a fairly short commute to and from work, pay an affordable price for their house/flat and live fairly close to a primary food source in and area where with minimal effort a waste facility could be established.
      This goes to the crux of why I think Victoria has some Geographic advantages over Sydney in handling population growth..they are already moving down the path of ramping up Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and even Sheparton to becoming lager regional hub’s
      NSW still is yet to have a reasonable freeway link from Sydney to Bathurst that could assist us explore the same type of opportunity.
      IMO ~ In empowering major non coastal Regional growth, NSW is about 25 years behind Victoria.

      • Peter Pando permalink
        April 2, 2011 10:54 pm

        Hi Peter,
        Getting the milk to the corner stores in every sprawling suburb is very expensive. It’d be much better to have suburban cows. As always it’s the expectations of lifestyle by those living in each place which will determine their politics and their future. A group which does not plan ahead may wind up panicking and causing conflict as they try to take the benefits which other more far-sighted groups have. Of course the rush from ‘population-rich’ places into the wealthy West, and the rapid emulation of Western-style industrial economies across the world could be portrayed as a manifestation of this dynamic. The only issue is that these booming economies apparently haven’t cared to do the mathematics of anything except the financial profits, and many of their sprawling, upwardly-mobile populations aren’t caring to do so either, except in so far as proposing that supplanting foreign populations will feed their own for a little longer. Such people only see the West as running out of energy, rather than changing direction. The crises over food and fuel which are coming foreshadow a humanitarian tragedy on an epic scale, and the West needs to signal this far more clearly than it has so far. How is that to be done, though? Distasteful as it may seem to lovers of diversity, the most humane course that Australia could take would be to engage in a strong education campaign about this issue coupled with firm restraints on immigration. Perhaps the message will get through to the over-populated nations heading down the industrialisation path that they need to adjust their cultures and their expectations so that their success doesn’t come at the cost of their own planet.

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