Continuing activity and impacts

Of course the nature of the program was such that the activity it generated continued on. The States now had no supporting Commonwealth funds, but also, largely, the area strategies no longer needed Commonwealth funds — private investment was now sufficient, along with some State contributions, to maintain development momentum.

By 1996 in most BBC areas, the market had well and truly picked up on the development opportunities BBC had created and facilitated, and with active agencies such as the Inner Brisbane Urban Renewal Authority, the East Perth Redevelopment Authority, Honeysuckle Creek Board, and elsewhere committed State agencies, investment continued to flow.

Appendix 3 provides examples of the later stages of development as the areas matured.

Post 1996 there emerged even stronger private sector support for the Better Cities initiative as more developers took advantage of the policy certainty, development opportunities and supportive environment of the Better Cities Area Strategies. Various evaluations of the initiative from an economic perspective (see Appendix 4) point to significant multiplier benefits (ranging from 1:5 to as high as 1:12 for each government dollar invested in BBC) along with employment and population growth outcomes that continue to rise, most evidently in the inner urban Area Strategies where the urban renewal processes sparked new market demands for inner urban lifestyles.

In fact the turn-around in inner urban populations in Australia that commenced after 1991 was sparked by the new opportunities created as BBC removed obvious impediments to markets investing in these locations, and gave new confidence to both producers and consumers of urban property alike. This was the most obvious large-scale effect of the program across the nation as a whole.

A corollary effect, less welcome, was the accompanying increase in property values and ‘gentrification‘ process in the inner city, that BBC sought to counter with affordable housing initiatives (with some success in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and less in Perth).

But the initiatives in regional locations in all States also had marked impacts in terms of the confidence with which cities like Geelong, Newcastle, Townsville, Launceston, and Bunbury set about further renewing old port and railway lands and inner urban property that was decaying and run-down, setting examples and lessons from which others have since learned.

There is less evidence that the outer urban projects had significant demonstration effects, although individual projects that revolved around infrastructure upgrades progressively have led urban development in potentially new directions — the Gold Coast railway; the Patawalonga rehabilitation in Adelaide along with the Virginia pipeline for recycling treated sewage; the transport interchanges at Stirling in Perth, Dandenong in Melbourne and Blacktown in Sydney; the flood mitigation along the Maribyrnong in Melbourne; the alternative fuel bus system in Perth. These were all valuable experiments in addressing urban issues that did not immediately result in the achievement of associated urban development changes but led in new directions because of their innovation and scale.

A careful examination of the elements of each Area Strategy on which funds were spent, and an assessment today such as that undertaken in 2006 by Pem Gerner for his PhD Thesis, would show two things, in my view:

In 1996 the Australian National Audit Office prepared its report on BBC, and concluded that it was difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the initiative because baseline measurements had not been taken against the objectives to be achieved. There were baseline measures, but only where statistics were available that matched the geographic coverage of each of the Area Strategies — often difficult because some were spread over a wide area, with complementary investments but no common statistical ‘area’.

A longer passage of time is needed to evaluate BBC fully, and it would be of value to have further work undertaken to examine and assess effects more than a decade after funding for the initiative ceased. Certainly many in the private sector and State and local governments have urged the Commonwealth, at various times, to commence a similar initiative.

One important set of findings from the ANAO report was to do with the innovations of BBC in terms of public administration.

The ANAO concluded that:

The BCP was an important addition to Commonwealth-State financial assistance models. While it was a general purpose capital assistance program, BCP payments to States and Territories were predicated on the achievement and reporting of outcomes and progress in implementation. Adopting a similar outcomes oriented approach is under consideration for other Commonwealth-State programs as a means of reducing duplication of administration with improved accountability. ANAO 1996

While commenting on the lack of adequate measures to fully assess performance against outcomes, the ANAO was very supportive of the outcomes-based approach to programs in the intergovernmental context.

In conducting a performance audit of BCP, the ANAO had the opportunity to consider the practical features of managing a program in which outputs and outcomes were important and delivery was by another level of government than that providing the funds. Some of these features are sufficiently important to merit consideration in the design of future Commonwealth programs. ANAO 1996

Further, the ANAO acknowledged that it might take some years beyond the funding period of the program to observe outcomes as real results.