BBC was a major Australia-wide urban initiative, and it had significant impacts in each State and at least one Territory — the Northern Territory. While not widely known among the general population, in the urban development industry and in government it became well known, was widely respected and is still a point of reference in the industry today.

It contributed to the transformation of inner urban Australia, to the development of new approaches to the future of regional cities, and to innovations in infrastructure and the management of resources such as urban water.

Because BBC did result in significant innovations, both in terms of approaches to urban design and the built environment, and because it produced outcomes in each State and Territory, it qualifies as a nation-building initiative, in my view. Yet it was a selective program geographically, intended to demonstrate new approaches, which it did. If it had not been selective it would not have been effective. This remains a dilemma for national programs.

BBC also demonstrated a new, collaborative approach between the Commonwealth and the States and Territories, where cooperation was essential to achieving shared objectives, and where the States and Territories delivered the program on behalf of the Commonwealth, while also contributing their own funds.

The outcomes basis of the program was unique at the time and the Agreements that enabled the program were new in approach and format.

The use of Area Strategies was particularly effective in most cases but especially so where managing organisations with real powers were established for an Area Strategy.

Because it was ahead of its time on issues like sustainability and the decentralisation of services, BBC also facilitated significant innovation in the development of both physical and social infrastructure.

Experiments with water reclamation and reuse in a number of areas broke new ground, public transport initiatives spurred renewed interest in the place and role of public transport, and the experience gained in cleaning up contaminated sites was invaluable for the future.

In terms of intergovernmental relations a many lessons were also evident.

The umbrella Intergovernmental Agreements served well as a means of having all governments agree to shared and common goals and objectives while allowing for variations in emphasis to reflect experience and conditions in each State or Territory.

Having an Area Strategy agreement below the ‘umbrella’ setting out what as to be achieved in each area receiving funding, and determining the various funding contributions (again with flexibility to reflect case-by-case variations) maximised the opportunity to ‘design’ program inputs and outcomes enabling experimentation and demonstration in each area — potentially driving a lot of learning. (Indeed, bringing together managers from each area for frequent sharing of information and experiences was a feature of the program).

And having dedicated management teams capable of working across government departments in each State to bring together and integrate the contributions of different agencies (and professions) was important. As stated earlier, this worked best when the managers also had some statutory powers or equivalent standing and authority (as in Inner Brisbane).

Ultimately the major investment in the areas where Commonwealth funding was provided came from the private sector, and the capacity to support and facilitate market activities, create confidence in new market directions and lead the market into new development products, were all fundamental to the success of BBC. Where this was best managed, the end results were the most impressive.

Finally, as a collaborative initiative, BBC showed how clear government policies, backed by committed investment in removing barriers to and creating opportunities for market activity, while mobilising the capacity of governments to deal with complex challenges, can lead to major changes in outcomes for society, in real development on the ground, and in social and economic opportunity.