Queensland Draft Infrastructure Strategy. A strong focus on liveable, inclusive and accessible communities

The Queensland Draft State Infrastructure Strategy 2021 (SIS) was released this week.

The SIS acknowledges the important role infrastructure plays across the state as Queensland’s population and economic growth outstrips the national average. This includes ensuring our communities remain attractive, liveable, prosperous and equitable places to live and work. Doing so will require equitable provision of affordable housing, delivery of an accessible transport system for all, ensuring resilience against environmental threats and delivering improved personal safety including health.

Agility and evolution are required to deliver this ambition in light of ongoing challenges from COVID-19, natural disasters and other shocks. The SIS provides a platform for rethinking the role of our key infrastructure assets and their resilience to these shocks while providing new approaches to policy challenges.

This clear focus on addressing these challenges is encouraging.

A strong focus on place-based delivery to foster liveable communities that are inclusive, accessible, and provide a sense of place and belonging.

A new theme prominent in the SIS is the state’s focus on creating liveable communities. This involves putting the community or user at the centre of infrastructure delivery and tailoring priorities accordingly. It ensures there is focus on delivering value for citizens today, while also considering what citizens will consider value-adding in the future. The goal here is to ensure that infrastructure creates better, safer, healthier, more connected and prosperous places to live, work and recreate.

The SIS provides a focus for government and community leaders to foster liveable communities that are inclusive, accessible, and provide a sense of place and belonging.

The introduction of Regional Infrastructure Plans to enable a place-based approach to infrastructure planning and delivery

Further embedding this place-based focus is the introduction of a more localised infrastructure delivery approach through the development of Regional Infrastructure Plans (RIPs) for each of the seven regions across Queensland. These RIPs will play a key role in ensuring a place-based approach to planning and prioritisation of regionally significant infrastructure. A place-based focus considers the local needs, local solutions, and the unique attributes of a place. While this focus has been at the forefront for infrastructure delivery for a number of years, we’re encouraged to see this initiative embedded in a clear pipeline that will be renewed every two years. A place-based approach supports the co-location of training, healthcare, and other critical community facilities which supports better outcomes for the community as well as efficiencies in delivery.

Continued work to integrate RIPs with regional land use will also present an important opportunity to deliver truly connected communities.

The introduction of the Infrastructure Cabinet Committee (ICC) will provide oversight and a framework of good governance to underpin the State’s investment.

The SIS also introduces the recently established ICC to provide a peak governance forum for ensuring that the state’s investment is optimised and coordinated. The ICC provides a renewed focus on infrastructure strategy and delivery across the state, considering ongoing monitoring, analysis and reporting on capital planning, delivery and performance. This strong governance forum will be critical to the implementation of the SIS, the roll-out of the RIPS and to ensuring the government effectively delivers infrastructure for the people of Queensland.

A focus on Queensland as a renewable energy superpower

Historically a focus on renewable energy would have been considered solely in the planning and delivery of Energy infrastructure assets. Under the draft SIS, renewable energy is instead treated as a focus area for the Strategy, with critical delivery actions across multiple asset classes, including energy, water and transport. Elevating a focus on renewable energy signals it is a priority in the delivery of all infrastructure assets, as well as highlighting the responsibility of all asset owners in contributing to the delivery of a net-zero-emission target.

Driving infrastructure performance in an environment of fiscal constraint

The SIS recognises the growth pressures that are being placed on our infrastructure networks while also acknowledging that we need to find new ways to drive better performance from the assets that we deliver. This includes embedding the use of data and digital tools across the infrastructure lifecycle as well as considering how our approach to maintenance can ensure we maximise the value of our existing assets. This focus is critical to the success of the strategy, particularly given the scale of Queensland’s infrastructure network and the critical role it plays in connecting our dispersed regional communities.

Continuing the trend toward next-generation infrastructure strategies

Queensland’s SIS is being released at a time when other states are also revamping their infrastructure strategies. Western Australia and Victoria have recently released their draft strategies, while New South Wales is soon to release theirs. Critically, a trend across all of these has been the recognition that infrastructure cannot simply be considered on an asset class basis. Instead, planning across all strategies has focused on cross-cutting themes and the interplay between asset classes to deliver place and community specific outcomes. In the SIS, examples of these cross cutting themes include new concepts such as a ‘green and blue grid’ of natural assets, the role of multiple assets in delivering on renewable energy goals and the critical enabling role of digital assets and platforms.

Opportunity for Integration of Private Sector Proposals

The Queensland Government is seeking feedback on the Draft SIS until 7 October 2021. One area of interest here will be the need to ensure that pathways for private sector infrastructure proposals and investments can also be captured in the final SIS. The SIS provides a clear indicator to industry of the opportunities and challenges that government has identified through their consultation phase, however views from the private sector will be insightful to refine these. Equally it is important that the SIS identifies clear pathways for industry to engage with government to address key opportunities and challenges as well as to provide innovation around how key projects could be delivered.

The draft SIS can be downloaded here and is open for comment from today.

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