Maria Rampa: Hi I’m Maria Rampa and welcome to this episode of Engineering Reimagined.
Transport infrastructure is not just about railways, stations, highways or terminals; it’s the lifeblood of thriving societies, determining how people access opportunities, and connect with one another. It can empower communities economically, environmentally and socially.
In the face of unprecedented urban growth, climate challenges, and changing work dynamics, the responsibilities of chief transport planners have never been greater. They hold the keys to unlocking a sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous future for our cities and regions.
Joining us in this episode are two experts in the field: Simon Hunter, Chief Transport Planner, Customer Strategy and Technology, for Transport for New South Wales, who is involved in delivering the largest transport infrastructure programme Australia has ever seen, and Paul Glucina, Chief Transport Planner at Waka Kotahi New Zealand Transport Agency, delivering major projects such as Auckland’s Rapid Transit Network.
Both bring a wealth of knowledge and experience in crafting innovative transport solutions that address the complex needs of our modern society. Simon and Paul chat to Alison Heller, Principal, Social Value, in Aurecon’s Engagement and Change Advisory team. Together they discuss how transport infrastructure can contribute to urban renewal, social equity, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability now and for future generations.
Let’s hear what they have to say.
Allison Heller: Hello, Simon and Paul and welcome to the Engineering Reimagined podcast. So our first question today, as chief transport planners, what is your biggest opportunity to create great public outcomes?
Paul Glucina: To me, the opportunity is around how we can further align between central government, local government and the private sector, because at the end of the day, that's where most of the investment will be coming from. And the more we've got the public and private pulling in the same direction, the more likely we're going to get outcomes quicker, better for our communities. So, the integration really is where the opportunities are.
Simon Hunter: This role is an absolute privilege because we get to work at the front end where we can take the strategic direction of government and turn it into actionable, real plans that can then be delivered that lead to those benefits and outcomes for the people of our country or our state or the area that we're working in. Specifically, we get to do things like plan for our future transport network, managing the intersection of land use plans and transport. We get to plan for the people that are using our systems and our services both today and tomorrow, thinking about what's going to happen long-term in the future and trying to prepare for that. And that leads to really tangible things like corridor identification and protection so that you can make things cheaper and easier and less disruptive on people's lives in the future if they're delivered.
Allison Heller: Transport infrastructure is arguably the most transformative urban infrastructure there is, in terms of how it impacts on people's lives. Simon, at the moment, New South Wales is delivering the largest transport infrastructure program Australia has ever seen, and that includes very significant investment in public transport, intergenerational impact related investment. So, what would you say is some of the benefits that have come from that current program being delivered in New South Wales?
Simon Hunter: It has been an incredible construction and infrastructure development boom. That point you made right up front, this is inter-generational infrastructure. It is infrastructure that delivers benefits to the current users as well as the future generations. We've built metros and motorways. We've invested in new public transport, freight links, many roads upgrades, replacement bridges, all of these things deliver a multitude of benefits, whether they're efficient movement of people and goods, freight, whether they are economic growth and development through the investment in our infrastructure and pipeline, one of the benefits that probably isn't spoken about enough is the uplift in the engineering sector and the development capacity and capability. It's important to plan so things get delivered in a way where they talk to each other and you don't create isolated infrastructure or accidental disconnections. But we also see with a massive pipeline like this, cost escalation and a real heating of the market and it creates that back-end challenge to make sure that the integration of the new infrastructure is seamless. It's been an incredible period. And I think we've really seen outcomes for the social equity and inclusion around more services and broader reach of our networks.
Allison Heller: Paul, New Zealand at the moment is really focusing on mass rapid transit with projects like Auckland Light Rail getting underway and that follows a very significant investment in roads across the country. So, could you tell us a bit more about that current program and what has led to that shift in focus to more investment in mass rapid transport?
Paul Glucina: There's probably two parts to this. At a basic level, part of that change represents a change in society. We've got more awareness now around the emerging impacts of climate change. The role that our transport network has to contribute to reducing that. We've got cities that are growing at a rate now where they're tipping over from trying to get away with what we've done for many decades, to moving into more modern approaches, to moving a lot of people in less space and the opportunities that you get to do that through rapid transit responses. We're starting to see that communities’ expectations represented in terms of the way we respond as a public sector. And that's really the second part. So, for the majority lion's share of transport investment in New Zealand comes from central government via the National Land Transport Fund. And the way we deliver that investment is based on what the government priorities are of the day. Over the last decade or so we have seen a mindful and consistent change from the balance of spend in our roading infrastructure moving into public transport, active modes and safety. All of our large metro areas in New Zealand are now looking at how they can really lift their public transport game. We've got Wellington undertaking investigations at the moment into rapid transit responses. Auckland Light Rail, that's one component of a wider 30-year Rapid Transit Network Plan for Auckland, which is, if you step back and look at our state highway system, was developed over sixty or seventy years, we now need to get to a similar place where we need to continue to build out that backbone of our public transport system through the Rapid Transit Network. So, it's a really exciting place to be in the transport planning industry at the moment because we're at the front end of a lot of that work.
Paul Glucina: Without a doubt has the ability to do that. I look back at some of the projects I've been involved in over a number of years, basically making areas more accessible to people, how that can stimulate the redevelopment of land which has been vacant or unused for a long time. Working around the Western ring route, which was a large strategic state highway corridor that was developed over decades and seen some of the accessibility benefits that come once you connect up employment areas with airports and industrial hubs and all the investment that the private sector has been able to bring afterwards. You can see the connection between the transport investment and what will come as a response.
Simon Hunter: I think transport can be a catalyst for urban renewal. It can also follow urban renewal or it can be the generator of urban renewal. I think about a project like say, Newcastle Light rail, which was really designed to support the urban renewal outcomes of the work that was underway in revitalising a corridor in a city that you know had real high potential for growth and just how active the corridor is that has been developed with the university there, with new housing and just a really vibrant, fun place to visit. And it's great to see transport able to play a role in supporting more than just the movement of people and goods, but rather the fabric of the city.
Allison Heller: Yes, I was in Newcastle recently. It's been so exciting to see that urban transformation happen around that investment and more to come there. Today's mega-projects across New South Wales and New Zealand are really more focused on that development-oriented transport to deliver positive social outcomes. And that's through really focusing in on those associated land uses and guiding that process of urban renewal that we know will occur that is catalysed by that transport investment. How are you navigating this whole domain differently to past approaches which were perhaps just quite focused on those transport investments and not what's happening around it?
Simon Hunter: I think we just have to because the circumstances say that we are more aware of, we have more data about, we have more information and more intersection with all the various different drivers of land use and transit demand so that we do respond to that. From the New South Wales perspective, we have a closer integration of land use and transport planning agencies than ever I've experienced. We also are doing different things like place-based business cases, to do one business case for all the infrastructure, social and economic that is required to support an area of growth to really give government that fulfilled picture of what it will cost to achieve the outcome that's desired in a particular place. And to do that, we have to build partnerships with council and the private sector, because governments can't be isolated, they can't do these things alone. Right now, we're in a period where the whole discipline of transport planning is being a bit shaken up. Historically it's been about the Marchetti's Constant, 30 minutes each way, five days a week, commute, travel and cities growing up around that with ideally being public transport to serve the majority of trips. But we're seeing hybrid work, people working two, three, four days, not in the office. And so we need to think about all of the different transit needs and transport needs people have and adjust to that. And we need to do that with the social planning agencies, with the local agencies, so that we don't risk misspending the public's money on the wrong solutions for people's future demand.
Paul Glucina: Doing things at the same time in terms of planning for the future has been really successful in getting the right outcomes for our communities. And we've got some examples right now in Auckland where we're designing the long-term greenfield transport networks for the future urban areas that our council is looking to provide. It's a quite a powerful way of working because it helps to show the real system-wide responses that you need to deliver in order to get communities to grow in the way that people want them to grow. So that it's not only the type of transport response you provide, but it's when you when you provide it, the sequencing, making sure people have got viable active modes and passenger transport services. It's been really useful to work in a partnership approach to develop infrastructure responses with the land use visioning.
Allison Heller: Yeah. It's a holistic approach to planning. It takes into account environmental, social and economic drivers and outcomes. I've been excited to see this shift to more of a focus on social value in business cases. We're seeing that coming through very tangibly through our projects. That really shows me how sustainability and resilience is very much at the heart of this long-term planning and transport now. And that really leads us to thinking about integrated station development, taking into account both the transport and the urban outcomes around it, can support different types of equity outcomes. And that's related to communities, access to public transport, affordable housing, housing that's well connected to jobs. So Paul, we do read about it a lot in the media there is a housing crisis in New Zealand. What interventions could be employed to enable delivery of affordable housing and social housing along with public transport infrastructure?
Paul Glucina: It's actually a really important first step that you were even able to ask me that question. So it's the visibility of this is a problem that we want to look into as a society. It's an area where, as a profession, we’re needing to change and evolve. Looking back over time, we're really good at measuring things from a transport perspective around the safety performance of a system, the reliability. But we need to start thinking about equity when we are assessing options. We need to be more insightful around the carbon impacts of our choices. So the way we understand our work needs to evolve because through those insights, we'll be able to make more conscious decisions in terms of the way we design and invest in our transport system.
Allison Heller: Simon, the ability to generate social and affordable housing is a very hot topic in Australia right now. So how does this translate into your sphere of influence?
Simon Hunter: Yeah, I think this is a pretty core issue. We've got government targets around social and affordable housing. But what I think we're seeing is projects really embracing this and looking at the responsibilities and opportunities they have to contribute to more than just a transport station or a transport node. I'll probably just mention one example, and that's some build-to-rent housing being developed around one of the stations on the new metro where right in the centre of the Sydney CBD, so right on the doorsteps of jobs and entertainment, there's going to be build-to-rent housing on Pitt Street. And I think projects delivering that sort of thing is the real tangible examples of where these kind of initiatives come to bear.
Allison Heller: When I have worked in social value in transport planning projects, one of the great examples that I often look at, in how they did things and how they delivered social and economic outcomes is the renewal of Kings Cross, St Pancras and that district and area around the station in London. Having lived there and just seen how that transformation occurred at that time. What was very interesting about that project is a real focus on taking into account the population characteristics, the social and economic characteristics of those surrounding local communities. And even though this was very much a transport hub for the nation, thinking about both those macro outcomes as well as the local outcomes for communities. And a couple of ways that was that was done was looking at the provision of public space and social infrastructure that would be accessible to local people. Also, the level of engagement that was undertaken with local communities in planning the project. Are there particular examples of integrated transport projects delivering social value that you've been inspired by?
Paul Glucina: Our New Zealand upgrade program. So that's a bit over $8 billion package that the Government has funded and a range of transport responses across New Zealand. We're testing some really innovative ways of approaching social procurement. So how are we looking at the ability to grow local workforces, our Māori Pasifika communities, and how we're looking to really start tackling our carbon challenges by innovating in the way we think about constructing and operating these new projects as well.
Simon Hunter: Here in Sydney, the plans for the future of the Central Station precinct and the Tech Central development and renewal around there I think are amazing. And watching that come to life over the next five, ten, twenty years, I think will really create those outcomes.
Allison Heller: I'm aware of the fantastic connecting with country work that was done also to inform the structure plan and that is just so innovative. So, to try and encapsulate what we've been talking about, what comes first, the transport or the land use.
Simon Hunter: It has to be a circular process where they talk to each other. You could start with what the existing land use is and what the existing transport capacity is. And then you look at whether there's a land use driver for change or whether there's a transport driver for change, and then how the other one responds to that. Like if you're putting in a new metro, but it's to an area where you don't have development plan, then you should think about what is the development that can take most advantage of that. But equally, if you have a housing target that can't have its travel demand targets met by the current network, then transport has to respond to that. It has to be a bit of give and take, right, where you set your vision, you look at your response and then from our perspective as public transport developers, planners and public servants, we have to provide advice to our governments about what's affordable, what's optimal, and how best we can realise the vision.
Paul Glucina: If you win that argument, you probably lost the war because you've missed the point. It's not one or the other. If you're not integrating, I don't think anyone wins and what we can also do is plan as a system as well as we can so that priorities can move, speed up or slow down. But if you've got a North Star to lead towards, most of the time you'll get a good integrated outcome.
Simon Hunter: I'm so going to steal that line. If you win that argument, you've lost the war.
Paul Glucina: Glad I could add value today.
Allison Heller: What are the social licence barriers to delivering more integrated transport and mobility more of the time. We’ve talked about opportunities a lot, the public value, the public benefits. But how about the barriers when communities are not sure of what's happening?
Paul Glucina: We're at a really interesting place where we've got younger generations with specific views around the way the transport system should work compared to other demographics. So we've got insights from all different age groups, backgrounds that are often not aligned. A big part of our role is helping people to understand what the opportunities are for the future. We need to make sure that we do understand the hesitancy our communities might have to change and do our best to work alongside them. Pushing things through never really works in my experience. So listening is always more powerful than talking.
Simon Hunter: You lose social licence if you do things to people and to the community. You gain social licence, you build trust and you legitimise what you do, if you do things with the community and you listen to the community and you plan and deliver with their best interests in mind. And sometimes that means changing things from what is an optimal technical solution to what is an optimal community solution. Sometimes it costs more, but the cost is worth it because of the benefit to community and to people.
Allison Heller: So what role can designers, engineers and advisors play, do you think, in the transition to a more sustainable and equitable future that you're both seeking to create through your very influential roles?
Paul Glucina: I've always found that, if we as a client are able to articulate the challenges clearly, a really keen engineer and designer is always going to find a way of chasing that down for us. And the other thing is, it's not simply settling for BAU in terms of the way we approach problems. And I've talked a little bit today about some of the new ways we need to think about how we do our work and looking at the different tools, methodologies that we can create to understand those problems better and also communicate with our communities better.
Simon Hunter: Don't be afraid to think outside the box and to think of different options. The reason we do ask other people for advice is because we don't have all the answers.
Allison Heller: Thank you so much to you both for sharing all of those really interesting insights and perspectives. It's an incredibly important role you play in what is a fast changing and evolving sphere and so influential in our everyday lives.
Simon Hunter: Thank you very much.
Paul Glucina: Thank you both.
Maria Rampa: Thanks so much to Simon, Paul and Allison for that insightful discussion.
I hope this episode helps you think differently about transport infrastructure and how it has the power to influence our social, economic and environmental future.
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Until next time, thanks for listening!