Time to plan for a second city
Is it time for serious consideration to be given to the forward planning of a “second city” in WA? The metropolitan region of Perth and Peel extends approximately 150km from Two Rocks in the north to Bouvard in the south and contains more than two million people.
Our strategic planning is contemplating growth to 3.5 million people, primarily through increased efficiency and the use of existing land assets. This is a positive and much needed approach for the Perth and Peel regions.
In parallel to seeking improved efficiency for the use of land in Perth and Peel, should we also be looking at the State as a whole with consideration to growth beyond 3.5 million and providing opportunities for people to establish themselves in satellite cities?
Bunbury and Geraldton are well positioned to accommodate increased population growth.
Both areas are connected to Perth by rail and are close enough to facilitate the benefits that come from contact with the Perth region but are far away enough to prevent commuters.
Joondalup was once hailed as a “second city” with considerable government investment in establishing it to perform that function. Its close proximity to Perth, however, has meant that it has simply become an outer suburb.
Both Bunbury and Geraldton provide opportunities for pleasant living environments with a high quality of life in an affordable coastal locality.
Bunbury in particular provides further connections to the South West and may present as a very attractive proposition for young families who can still maintain a connection to family and friends in Perth while enjoying the benefits of a South West lifestyle. Bunbury has a significant port facility, water resources and the existing nucleus of a city with a current population estimated at 33,000.
Long-term strategic thought is required to encourage major investment and employment generators in satellite cities.
Government incentives for the establishment of significant industries in these localities would be appropriate. Perhaps the establishment of another major university campus specifically directed to attracting overseas students would be another way of promoting increased economic activity within these areas.
The question of a second or additional major city for WA also invigorates the conversation as to what might be regarded as an ideal size for communities in the context of trying to manage the uncontrolled sprawl of existing or established cities. If a city grows beyond 3.5-4 million inhabitants it is likely to be at risk of losing all of the attractive attributes of a major metropolis and commence the process of engendering the disadvantages that come with much bigger cities.
At 3.5 million persons, or thereabouts, a city can expect to be provided with good quality efficient infrastructure in terms of physical services and those more stimulating assets of education, culture and entertainment. A 3.5 million-person city has its own critical mass in generating theatres, galleries, sporting and other entertainment as well as good quality education establishments, and a variety of choice in these areas.
Public transport, road networks, pedestrian and public spaces can all be assured of good patronage and high-quality outcomes. Job and workplace opportunities are also generally readily available.
There is a point, however, where for a city through its sheer size and population levels, these good qualities start to erode. A city of more than four million is under threat of this change in dynamic. A city of five-six million is almost certain to have problems of this nature.
Stopping a city growing, however, is not easily achieved and requires an incentive for growth to occur elsewhere.
If we are to maintain Perth at a 3.5 million threshold, because all of the “good” reasons then an attractive alternative must be formulated very soon.
Bunbury with a population of less than 50,000 has all of the catalyst ingredients to facilitate a well-planned and generational outcome — without the attendant risks of being in such a remote location that there is no connection back to the “first city”.
The climate is palatable and attractive and opportunities for employment in industry and agriculture are available. There is also a good, albeit small, established base of cultural and education facilities.
Planning now will ensure that Perth at 3.5 million can be sustained and potentially slow down after that population level is reached, with the second city coming into its own as an alternative.
This outcome cannot, however, be achieved in any short-term or ad-hoc fashion.
Bunbury needs to be on the long-term plan now for a population, this century, of one million or more people.
Long-term strategic thought is required to encourage major investment.
Illustration: Don Lindsay