5 May 2022

From post-pandemic recovery, to housing supply and sustainability- urban planners play a key role in shaping Australia’s future. But with great responsibility comes great challenges- and opportunities. Speaking with Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) recently, Urbis Group Director – Planning, Ray Haeren explains. 

Q: In the recently published Senate Inquiry into house affordability and supply, the planning industry was singled out for its impact on housing supply. What did you make of this?

A: It seemed like a cheap shot – to hold planners responsible for the supply factor when we know there are multiple levers at work. The planning system can definitely be used to put obstacles in front of opportunities for development but that’s certainly not its purpose.

Housing density remains an issue, in terms of community acceptance and delivery.  A significant proportion of housing is built in areas that lack infrastructure. Often on the outer fringes, these areas might be seen as affordable but the costs of living can increase further out and there’s often less of a green canopy.

We need to see better alignment between state and local government in deciding where it’s most appropriate to create housing density – social housing and housing for older people too – so we create locations based on the metrics of amenity, employment and transport.

We don’t want cost to be the sole driver but we also need to look at what other levers can be pulled. A National Settlement Strategy would help us focus on where we should create amenity first, as we know this is a key determinant of where people choose to live.

In terms of supply, we also need to understand factors that impact housing affordability outside of the planning system. These may be out of our control but it’s worth considering how we might better engage with them.

What we’re now seeing is that planners have a key role to play in helping reactivate our CBDs.

Ray Haeren View Profile

Q: At the height of the pandemic, there was concern that our CBDs may not recover. What trends are emerging now from our major cities?

A: While we saw a significant sway to the tree- and sea-change lifestyle during the pandemic, these waves were essentially expediting existing trends like online shopping or remote working hours.

What we’re now seeing is that planners have a key role to play in helping reactivate our CBDs. By focusing on the creation of vibrant precincts we’re now leveraging existing infrastructure and re-positioning our cities as great destinations once again.

We also have the opportunity to share what we’ve learned across the country as we start to open up. If we can share our data around the success of certain initiatives, in all locations, we’ll be in an even better position to attract people back to living in and visiting our CBDs.

Q: Urbis has committed to achieving certified carbon neutral status by FY23. What role do planners have in helping Australia work towards a decarbonised future?

A: We have to make planning decisions that benefit the entire community now as well as into the future. We need to pass on a future to our children and grandchildren that is at least equal to what we have today.

That shouldn’t be an outrageous concept but it might mean compromising in the here and now. As planners, we try to strike a balance between what’s good for today while keeping an eye on what that means for the future.

We need to consider that sustainability is built around the community as well as driven by societal, economic and environmental drivers. We still need mature discussions and clear policy guidance to help us determine what that balance needs to be.

Q: As an employer of choice, how is Urbis preparing to attract and foster the next generation of planners?

A: At Urbis we want to attract and retain the brightest minds and best talent in the industry and today’s new recruits are looking for more than a nice salary – they want to feel an alignment with their employer around values.

Increasingly, employees want to see that their employer is walking the talk on everything from environmental policy to being socially responsible and contributing to a better future. This is really exciting for us and sits well with everything we hope to achieve at Urbis.

Young planners in particularly are being encouraged to find a workplace that provides the best opportunities, challenges and learning environments to meet their needs – so they feel aligned in their values and supported in the future they’re carving out for themselves.

Urbis is delighted to be a platinum sponsor of the 2022 Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) National Congress to be held in Tasmania 18-19 May 2022.