Statutory regional planning for South-East Queensland has been in place for more than 10 years, firstly with the 2005 SEQ Regional Plan and followed by the current SEQ Regional Plan which commenced in 2009.

A new regional plan, to replace the current 2009 plan, has been on the drawing board for some time. The State has committed to delivering a new draft plan for public consultation in 2016 and expects to release the final plan next year.

The Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning anticipates that the new regional plan will:

  • respond to the region’s changing population size and demographics;
  • set responsive directions and targets; boost jobs growth across the region in industries of the future; and
  • drive towards a region that is “smart, sustainable, compact, connected, safe and healthy for now and into the future”.

The State’s “Shaping SEQ – Planning for the Future” indicates that the core principles from the current regional plan will continue, including a compact urban form and more development in existing urban areas that creates communities with diverse housing that is well-connected, vibrant and sustainable. The new plan will have five core themes – grow, live, connect, prosper and sustain – to support the affordability, vitality and quality of the region.

Consistent with this, it has been reported that the new regional plan will facilitate more infill development such as highrise and townhouse developments. In light of comments that urban renewal does not meet everyone’s needs and there needs to be new greenfield sites, the Minister has indicated the regional plan will provide a balance between infill development close to transport and more affordable greenfield housing.

Planning to facilitate greater infill development and minimise greenfield development is generally underpinned by principles about better utilising existing infrastructure, minimising urban sprawl and reducing environmental impacts (e.g. clearing vegetation). While encouraging greater infill development is a reasonable policy, it is also important to acknowledge that from a community viewpoint infill can have undesirable impacts. Recent experiences in Brisbane’s inner city areas demonstrate that existing communities often feel aggrieved by the process of densification and associated impacts on character, traffic and amenity, notwithstanding the rational public policy reasons for encouraging infill in close proximity to the City centre. Further, infill housing does not necessarily accommodate the desires of many demographics to have a house on a reasonably sized lot which is both available and affordable. Ultimately, infill development has its limitations. Existing infrastructure can only accommodate a certain capacity and will eventually need to be upgraded to accommodate a greater population.

As the State has undertaken various modes of informal consultation and will shortly undertake formal public consultation, it is perhaps timely to discuss with the community why infill development is desirable, acknowledge and seek to address concerns about impacts on existing communities and understand what type of development in the region people want. It seems likely to be the case that people support infill development in principle, provided impacts can be managed. Critically, the SEQ Regional Plan must also focus on delivering sufficient greenfield development areas to cater for desirable housing options along with reasonable connections to employment and good quality infrastructure.

We will continue to “watch this space” in anticipation of dates for public consultation for the new plan.