A smarter way to beat Australia's $53b congestion

THE Turnbull Government has now released its much-anticipated Smart Cities Plan pitched at making sure our nation's cities are more livable, accessible and productive.

This is the first time a national plan talks about creating long-term investment in major regional cities. Considering the impact of these cities, this shift is a welcome and timely advancement.

Regional capital cities have a combined population of more than four million people - the size of one of Australia's largest cities, Sydney or Melbourne.

Major regional cities also support an additional four million people living in surrounding towns and rural areas.

This means a third of Australians rely on a thriving regional city for their everyday needs.

Regional capital cities are growing, many faster than the national average. Karratha had one of the fastest growth spurts for a regional capital city in the past five years at 18.3% and is expected to grow nearly 45% in the next 20 years.

In 15 years, Townsville is expected to add an additional 91,000-plus people to its population - the equivalent of adding the population of Rockhampton.

All cities are enormous economic assets and play a vital role in building a strong economy.

As the nation's $53 billion congestion bill spirals out of control, it is clear Australia needs a solution that moves past the big five city bias that has been ingrained in our national leadership.

The evidence that this is the right path was recently highlighted when the Regional Australia Institute stated that for every 100,000 Australians who choose to live in regional capital cities instead of the five big cities, approximately $50 billion will be released into the national economy over 30 years in reduced congestion costs.

But it is more than just economics - just like those who call a capital city home; those living in a regional capital city need more jobs and services to make their cities better places to live.

Our cities also need the total infrastructure package - transport, digital technology, education, recreational facilities and culture.

The Smart Cities Plan City Deals could be a way to support this investment in regional capital cities. The deals are a key part of the Turnbull Government's plan to negotiate agreements between city leaders, the private sector and governments.

The deals aim to deliver specific infrastructure projects and allow cities to do what they think is best to help businesses grow and create new jobs and attract and retain new people.

The end result would be the creation of smart, powerful and innovative regional capital cities that are shaping their own economic destinies.

Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation Angus Taylor and Minister for Regional Development, Regional Communications and Rural Health Fiona Nash have hailed the Smart Cities Plan as a win for regional cities.

The diversity of Australia begs this should be the case; a national cities plan should include a role for each of our 50 regional capital cities that are strategically located around the country.

As further details on the City Deals are announced after the Federal Budget, Regional Capitals Australia will be looking for announcements that show there will be investment in small, medium and large cities.

Our leaders need to make sure all regional cities are planned for and invested in because it really is time that those living in regional Australia had a fair go.

Shane Van Styn is the Chair, Regional Capitals Australia, an  alliance of local government associations binding together to build a nation of strong, sustainable and well-planned regional capitals and connected communities.

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