Saturday, February 25, 2012

Yarrabilba - more unsustainable urban sprawl?

The Urban Land Development Authority (ULDA) was set up by the Queensland Government in 2007 as part of the Queensland Housing Affordability Strategy. The ULDA is claimed to "deliver commercially viable developments that include diverse, affordable, sustainable housing, and use best practise urban design principles". Really? Cities in Europe such as London, realised that urban sprawl had to be restrained nearly 100 years ago in favour of increasing population density along transport corridors. Unfortunately, development in SE Queensland is continuing in the environmentally unsustainable fashion of building large low density developments in the middle of nowhere. Just to make matters worse, the public transport provision provided to these new developments is generally mediocre to poor. The resulting increased reliance on car use for relatively long distance journeys to work is environmentally unsustainable, and would have serious implications for family living costs if a peak oil crisis was to occur. Considering that the ULDAs developments are to facilitate "the provision of ongoing availability of affordable housing options for low to moderate income households", this virtually forced reliance on car use for lower income families is quite perverse.

One of the ULDAs pending developments is Yarrabilba, located 40km South East of Brisbane's CBD,  and 35km from the Gold Coast beaches. Despite claims by developers Lend Lease of being within "Easy reach of the Brisbane CBD, the Gold Coast" the development is still 15 minutes (drive) from the congested M1 Motorway and possibly further to access train services on the overcrowded Gold Coast and Beenleigh train lines. As many residents of North Lakes have found to their cost after being attracted by low property and land prices, it is a very painful commute if you live a long way from your place of work!

The development is planned to reach 50,000 population, with developments by Lend Lease starting to be advertised in the press. So what are the public transport provisions for this development? As mentioned above, the nearest train stations are outer Beenleigh Line stations, including Beenleigh itself which is also on the Gold Coast Line. Even if a half-decent feeder bus network was provided to a station served by Gold Coast express services, it would take at least 70 minutes to travel from Yarrabilba to Central by public transport. Whilst an abandoned train line which branches off the Beenleigh Line at Bethania runs close to Yarrabilba, there are no plans to utilise or modify this train line. There is also currently insufficient inner-city rail capacity to cope with extra train services from the South East corridor which includes the nearby urban sprawl development of Flagstone.

What about buses? The ULDAs map shows an "ExpressLink" branded bus running past Yarrabilba with a spur to Yarrabilba's core, but does not directly serve the vast majority of Yarrabilba's population. An "UrbanLink" bus, supposedly running every 15 minutes (according to the government's "Connecting 2031" spin document) will serve some parts of Yarrabilba, but again does not directly serve the most of Yarrabilba's population. It is also unclear as to where outside of Yarrabilba this bus would serve, and as to whether this would actually be useful to provide access to major employment, commercial, and education centres for Yarrabilba's population. The other main roads in Yarrabilba show "Indicative Local Bus Services" on ULDAs map. If the rest of SE Queensland's urban sprawl is anything to go by, this could be interpreted as an infrequent and limited hours local bus service.

Road, rail, and busway in Runcorn, UK  Source: Google Maps
This poor public transport planning is in stark contrast to excellent public transport planning in some of the UK's new towns such as Runcorn in the 1970s. Runcorn has a low cost busway loop which is free of car traffic (although it occasionally crosses roads a light controlled junctions). This busway serves the majority of the new towns population. New developments in the Thames Gateway area also have a new low cost busway (called FastTrack) linking housing, commercial, hospital, and employment areas, as well as connecting with commuter train services. Is this idea too smart for the smart state?

There is sadly no hope for SE Queensland to have environmentally sustainable transport policies when urban planning includes urban sprawl developments with poor consideration for public transport. It is not just Yarrabilba, but Greater Flagstone, Ripley Valley, and Caloundra South that may also be built with minimal public transport provision. The well established Springfield has only just received the addition of a (infrequent and limited hours) bus linking it with SE Queensland's rail network. Greater Flagstone's train line cannot happen without more inner-city rail capacity. Ripley Valley and Caloundra South's rail services are looking like they won't be seen for at least 15 years. It's time for SE Queensland to build up, not out!

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