Management focus areas


Along with overall land-use planning, management of the built environment also requires planning around several specific components of the environment and human activity. Current focus areas include transport and traffic, water, energy, waste, and disaster management.


Projections of population growth and transport demand are driving policy-thinking at all levels of government. The importance of integrated planning, particularly integrating transport and land-use planning, is vital. It is recognised that different parts of a city have different transport tasks and different infrastructure needs (Atkins et al. 2015). According to Armstrong et al. (2015) in Delivering sustainable urban mobility, sustainable urban mobility planning involves consideration of a 3-pronged approach:

  • reduce or avoid travel, or the need to travel
  • shift to more environmentally friendly modes of transport
  • improve the energy efficiency of transport modes and vehicle technology.

Policy and funding would ideally prioritise active modes of transport (walking and cycling) and public transport over private cars, and integrate land-use and transport planning decisions such that outer-city and inner-rural areas do not experience transport poverty.


Population growth, along with shifting patterns of urban development, is likely to change the type of transport infrastructure required for our cities (Infrastructure Australia 2016). Australia has made substantial investments in transport infrastructure in cities during the past 20 years, and there are numerous plans to increase infrastructure investments significantly in the future. The effect of these investments will have long-lasting impacts on Australia’s cities (Atkins et al. 2015).

The Australian Infrastructure Audit (2015) found that appraisal, selection, delivery and operation of infrastructure projects have not been consistently implemented across governments, and that an improved framework is also required to protect corridors for transport and other linear infrastructure. Infrastructure Australia, in its Australian Infrastructure Plan (Infrastructure Australia 2016) identified several proposals to expand the capacity of urban passenger rail networks as high-priority initiatives on the updated Infrastructure Priority List (Box BLT14).

Information and communications technology

Increasingly, the use of information and communications technology (ICT) will facilitate urban management. ICT relating to transport and traffic includes a suite of current and emerging standalone technologies, such as traffic management systems, and connected and automated vehicles (see Box BLT15). These can be used to achieve safety, mobility and environmental outcomes (DIRD 2016). Technological innovation is also important in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, trip times and traffic accidents.

The Australian Government is developing a new national policy framework for transport ICT, in partnership with the state and territory governments. In some instances, such as smart motorways and free-flow electronic tolling, Australia is a world leader in the deployment of ICT. These applications and technologies can improve the movement of commuters and freight through existing transport infrastructure, reduce congestion, lessen travel times and inform future planning for our transport networks (DIRD 2016).

Effective ICT projects can generate large benefits for small costs when compared with traditional infrastructure investment. For example, at a relatively low cost, coordinated ramp metering at Melbourne’s Monash Freeway increased peak throughput by 30 per cent, saved 16,500 litres of petrol and led to a 40 tonne daily reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (DIRD 2016).

Box BLT15 Self-driving vehicles: the way of the future?

Technological options, such as the rapid deployment of semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicles, have the potential to significantly reduce projected congestion costs (BITRE 2015b). A recent study has examined the changes that might result from the large-scale uptake of a shared and self-driving fleet of vehicles in a mid-sized European city. The study explores 2 different self-driving vehicle concepts: TaxiBots, which are self-driving cars that can be shared simultaneously by several passengers, and AutoVots, which pick up and drop off single passengers sequentially.

TaxiBots, combined with high-capacity public transport, could remove 9 out of every 10 cars in a mid-sized European city. However, the overall volume of car travel will likely increase. A TaxiBot system with high-capacity public transport will result in 6 per cent more car-kilometres travelled than today, because these services would have to replace not only those provided by private cars and traditional taxis but also those provided by buses. An AutoVot system in the absence of high-capacity public transport will nearly double (+89 per cent) the car-kilometres travelled. This is because of repositioning and servicing trips that would otherwise have been carried out by public transport.

A TaxiBot system in combination with high-capacity public transport uses 65 per cent fewer vehicles during peak hours. An AutoVot system without public transport would still remove 23 per cent of the cars used today at peak hours. However, overall vehicle-kilometres travelled during peak periods would increase compared with today. For the scenario of TaxiBots with high-capacity public transport, this increase is relatively low (9 per cent). For the scenario of AutoVot car sharing without high-capacity public transport, the increase is significant (103 per cent).

Reduced parking needs will free up significant public and private space in all cases examined. This is a significant amount of space, equivalent to 210 football fields or nearly 20 per cent of the kerb-to-kerb street space in the model city. Additionally, up to 80 per cent of off-street parking could be removed, generating new opportunities for alternative uses of this valuable space.

Additionally, the deployment of large-scale self-driving vehicle fleets will likely reduce both the number of crashes and crash severity, despite increases in overall levels of car travel. Environmental impacts remain tied to per-kilometre emissions and could be worse because of the increased number of vehicle-kilometres travelled. Lessening the environmental impact will therefore depend on the adoption of more fuel-efficient and less polluting technologies. Such door-to-door vehicle services could also have negative health impacts from reduced active transport.

Source: ITF (2015)

Urban water supply

Australia’s urban water sector delivers services to more than 20 million Australians, across 220 urban water utility businesses, owned by state or territory and local governments. The structure, ownership and governance of these urban water utilities vary widely (see Figure BLT48), with equally wide variations in performance (IPA & WSAA 2015).

With Australia’s population expected to grow significantly during the next few decades, so will demand for urban water services and related infrastructure to support this growth (IPA & WSAA 2015).

Australia’s urban water networks emerged from the millennium drought with improved water infrastructure, following major investments in high-quality, diversified and sustainable water supply infrastructure (see Box BLT16).

Initial responses to the drought largely focused on water conservation and demand management. When the drought’s duration extended, states and territories committed billions of dollars to augment and diversify the sources of their urban water supplies. Desalination plants were constructed in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and the Gold Coast. From 2007–08 to 2012–13, annual capital expenditure by water and sewage businesses peaked at more than $8 billion in 2008–09, but then fell to just over $3 billion in 2012–13 (IPA & WSAA 2015).

Major rainfalls during 2010 signalled the end of drought conditions across the eastern seaboard (Western Australia was not afforded such relief); however, drought has now returned to parts of New South Wales and Queensland (IPA & WSAA 2015).

Box BLT16 How urban water sources are changing

According to the National performance report 2014–15: urban water utilities (BoM 2016), surface water remained the dominant source of urban water across the eastern and northern states (see Table BLT19). In 2014–15, Perth’s Water Corporation sourced almost equal amounts of its urban water supplies from desalination and groundwater (40 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively). Adelaide’s reliance on surface water increased by 52 per cent between 2013–14 and 2014–15, as its reliance on desalination as a source dropped by 63 per cent between those years.

Although Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have invested in desalination capacity, the availability of surface-water resources in these states has not necessitated any significant use of this source in recent years (BoM 2016; also see Water resource development in the Inland water report for further discussion of urban water supplies as a pressure on Australia’s inland waters).

Table BLT19 Inputs to urban water supplies, by source and major urban centre, 2013–14 and 2014–15

Major urban centre

Surface water


Desalinated water

Recycled water












































South-east Queensland























































GL = gigalitre; ML = megalitre

Source: BoM (2016)

The good condition of the sector has come at significant costs to consumers, as well as the urban water utilities themselves. Consumer water prices have risen sharply during recent years, and this represents only part of the increased infrastructure costs, with water utilities absorbing a high degree of the cost through increased borrowings. According to the Urban water reform report, November 2015 (IPA & WSAA 2015), this has left the urban water sector ‘... financially depleted and under-resourced for the task ahead, on current settings’.

In 2015, the Australian Government published the Review of the national urban water planning principles—final report (DoE 2015), which had been finalised and endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments in November 2008. The principles aim to help jurisdictions to undertake long-term planning for urban water supplies to ensure that future demand is met.

The review found that, for many jurisdictions, the adoption of integrated urban water management—particularly water-sensitive urban design—was limited by fragmented responsibilities for different aspects of the water cycle and for overall urban planning.

Following the millennium drought investments, the urban water sector faces a sustained requirement for investment in other parts of the urban water supply chain, such as:

  • distribution assets to service new growth areas
  • wastewater treatment assets to meet increasingly stringent environmental and health standards
  • in some regional areas, investments to improve drinking water quality to acceptable standards
  • management of the potential impacts of climate change—for example, the need to augment the capacity of stormwater infrastructure to cope with more frequent and severe rainfall events, and an ongoing requirement to renew ageing infrastructure across all networks (IPA & WSAA 2015).


Growth in energy consumption in Australia has generally remained below the rate of economic growth during the past 3 decades. This has led to a decline in Australia’s energy intensity (the ratio of energy use to activity in the Australian economy), and an improvement in energy productivity. This can be attributed mainly to improvements in energy efficiency associated with technological advances, and a shift in economic structure towards less energy-intensive sectors, such as services (DIS 2015).

The decline in electricity consumption during recent years is largely because of:

  • energy efficiency improvements in many sectors
  • consumer responses to higher retail electricity prices
  • declines in energy use in the petroleum refining; nonferrous metals; and food, beverage and tobacco manufacturing industries.

The energy efficiency of appliances has improved, such as in refrigeration and air-conditioning, and energy efficiency requirements in the Building Code of Australia have been strengthened (DIS 2015).

Australia’s energy market developed when there were clear and distinct roles in the electricity supply chain. But the growth in solar and wind energy infrastructure and other emerging technologies, such as battery storage systems, has the potential to dramatically disrupt the traditional model of electricity supply. The ability of consumers to choose their own energy infrastructure, such as combining solar with battery technology located at home, has reduced demand from the grid. Renewable energy will also continue to supply more power to the grid (Infrastructure Australia 2016).

Waste and pollution

Traditionally, planning arrangements have primarily been the responsibility of state, territory and local governments. The Australian Government’s ability to influence policy in this area has been limited.

However, governments have now recognised that there are circumstances where collaboration across jurisdictions can lead to better outcomes. The Intergovernmental Agreement on the Environment was made between the Australian, state and territory governments, and representatives of local government to provide a basis for cooperative approaches to the management of environmental issues, including air quality. The agreement led to the establishment of the National Environment Protection Council Act 1994, which allowed for the making of National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs), a special set of national objectives designed to assist in protecting or managing aspects of the environment (Australian Government 2015a). Currently, there are 7 NEPMs, all of which are relevant to the built environment:

  • Air toxics sets out a nationally consistent approach to data collection on toxic air pollutants (such as benzene), to deliver a comprehensive information base from which standards can be developed to manage these air pollutants to protect human health.
  • Ambient air quality establishes a nationally consistent framework for monitoring and reporting on air quality, including the presence of pollutants such as carbon monoxide, lead and particulates. Work, including a public consultation, commenced in 2013–14 towards making a variation to this NEPM. The final variation was completed in 2016.
  • Assessment of site contamination provides a nationally consistent approach to the assessment of site contamination to ensure sound environmental management practices by regulators, site assessors, environmental auditors, landowners, developers and industry. It has been highly effective in providing authoritative guidance to practitioners in this field.
  • Diesel vehicle emissions supports reducing pollution from diesel vehicles. Several jurisdictions operate a suite of programs to reduce exhaust emissions from diesel vehicles.
  • Movement of controlled waste minimises potential environmental and human health impacts related to the movement of certain waste materials, by ensuring that waste to be moved between states and territories is properly identified, transported and handled in ways consistent with environmentally sound management practices.
  • National pollutant inventory provides a framework for collection and dissemination of information to improve ambient air and water quality, minimise environmental impacts associated with hazardous wastes, and improve the sustainable use of resources.
  • Used packaging materials minimises environmental impacts of packaging materials, through design (optimising packaging to use resources more efficiently), recycling (efficiently collecting and recycling packaging) and product stewardship (demonstrating commitment by stakeholders) (NEPC 2015).

One example of collaboration is that of the joint initiative of the Australian and Australian Capital Territory governments to protect and improve long-term water quality in the territory and the Murrumbidgee River system. Canberra’s lakes and waterways are under increasing pressure, largely because of urban development, past land and water management regimes, climate change, and a general lack of awareness about the kinds of activities that affect water quality. Six catchment areas in the Murrumbidgee River system were recently targeted by the Australian Government to improve water quality in the Australian Capital Territory region (preventing algal blooms and foul smells in the waterways). The project will reduce the level of nutrients and pollutants entering our lakes and waterways, which have a significant impact on Australia’s Murray–Darling Basin (EPSDD 2016).

Disaster management

Disaster resilience is the collective responsibility of all levels of government, business, the nongovernment sector and individuals. Given the increasing regularity and severity of natural disasters, Australian governments have recognised that a national, coordinated and cooperative effort is required to increase Australia’s capacity to withstand and recover from emergencies and disasters. The Australian, state and territory governments are collaborating to deliver a program in support of the National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (NSDR; NEMC 2011).

Priority 6 of the strategy specifically relates to ‘reducing risks in the built environment’. Responsible land-use planning can prevent or reduce the likelihood of hazards affecting communities. Building standards can mitigate the likelihood of loss of life, as well as damage to, and/or destruction of, property and infrastructure. Changes to building codes and improved building standards have included important control systems that have reduced risks in the built environment (e.g. the Australian Standard for construction in bushfire-prone areas; Standards Australia 2009). The need to integrate natural disaster risk management into all aspects of the land-use planning process is also widely acknowledged in the Enhancing Disaster Resilience in the Built Environment roadmap. Jurisdictions are developing capability and investment plans to help implement the priorities set out in the roadmap, and are actively undertaking projects to progress the roadmap’s improvement areas (NEMC 2011).

In Australia, floods cause an estimated $377 million in damage each year. The Queensland floods in 2010–11 resulted in 38 lives lost, 70 towns and 200,000 people affected, and a damage cost of around $2.4 billion. In Brisbane alone, around 20,000 houses were inundated. The Victorian floods in 2011 affected around 50 communities and inundated 1700 properties. New South Wales also experienced extensive flooding between 2010 and 2012 (AGD 2016).

The NSDR supports several flood-related programs and projects, such as:

  • the Supporting Post-Disaster Planning in Flood-Affected Communities Project—administered by the Planning Institute of Australia under the National Emergency Management Projects grants program, which has provided online, on-demand access to information relating to flood effects and planning for local planners, particularly in rural and regional areas
  • the Australian Flood Standard for the National Construction Code, which sets out the minimum standards for building, plumbing and construction in Australia; with implementation of the new requirements, the code now includes improvement of the resilience of buildings and the safety of building occupants in flood-hazard areas
  • Floodengage—a new online decision-support system that helps the public (including councillors, planners, engineers and the community) to learn about, prioritise and make considered decisions about floodplain management options for their local catchment.

Other programs include the following:

  • Corin Dam and Stockyard Spur Greenbreak. Following the 2003 Canberra fires, reducing the chance of the whole Cotter catchment burning in a single wildfire event was identified as a priority in the Australian Capital Territory’s Strategic Bushfire Management Plan (version 2). The combination of upgrading the walking track and the subsequent prescribed burn can provide control lines for future suppression and back-burning operations, and reduce the chance of both the Bendora Dam and Corin Dam subcatchments burning in a single bushfire event. This strategy is also important to help protect Canberra’s water supply from bushfires.
  • Bushfire Attack Level calculator. In conjunction with CSIRO, Queensland is developing a Bushfire Attack Level calculator to help assess development sites for bushfire hazards. The calculator forms part of the state’s guidance material for bushfire hazards, which aims to improve disaster resilience in land-use planning. Other material includes a model development code, and guidance for site assessments and bushfire protection plans.
  • Living in Safer Places project. Following the Perth Hills bushfires of 2011, this project introduced statewide bushfire hazard mapping, which triggers planning and building requirements for new development in bushfire-prone areas to ensure that development is in a location and to a standard appropriate to the bushfire risk. The project enables members of the community to make informed decisions about living in bushfire-prone areas, and improves community safety and bushfire resilience.
  • The Queensland Betterment Fund, established in 2013 following cyclone Oswald. This disaster event caused $2.1 billion damage to many public assets that had been repeatedly affected and restored following earlier disasters in 2011 and 2012. The $80 million fund has seen delivery of more than 230 projects with a total project value of more than $170 million. A key test for the program is whether it leaves infrastructure and communities less vulnerable to the natural hazards of Queensland’s climate. Already, Betterment projects have withstood disasters in 2014 and 2015, including cyclones Ita and Marcia.

Research to map the vulnerability of cities to heat has also been undertaken by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Monash University and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities (Loughnan et al 2013). The CRC has developed a public mapping application that overlays Google Earth images with measures of heat vulnerability for Australia’s capital cities.

Following recent heatwaves in Australia, governments have taken action to increase heatwave preparedness and mitigate impacts (see Increased extreme weather events and Natural environment). Measures have also been developed to better anticipate heatwave incidents and improve understanding of the effects on communities. The Bureau of Meteorology has defined and mapped the intensity of heatwaves using the new heatwave measure of ‘excess heat factor’ (DITMCU 2013).

In November 2011, New South Wales published its State Heatwave Subplan (NSW State Emergency Operations Controller 2011), part of the New South Wales State Disaster Plan. In December 2012, Western Australia released its State Emergency Management Plan for Heatwave (WA DoH 2012). Since 2009, the Victorian Government has developed a heatwave plan and a heat alert system. It has also provided funding to help councils prepare plans, with guidance from the Victorian Government’s 2012 Heatwave Planning Guide (Vic DHS 2009) and the Heatwave Plan Review Tool (Vic DoH 2011). The City of Greater Geelong, and the municipalities of Swan Hill and Frankston also now have plans in place.

Coleman S (2016). Built environment: Management focus areas. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65a5037ed8