WA Scientist of the Year says Perth’s urban sprawl is unsustainable

Peter Newman.
Peter Newman.

RECENTLY-crowned WA Scientist of the Year Peter Newman (AO) believes Perth’s urban sprawl will do more harm than good to the city.

The Curtin University professor was recognised for his contributions to urban design and sustainability at the Premier’s Science Awards last week.

Prof Newman said Perth could not have both urban sprawl and sustainability and needed to instead focus on building dense central hubs closer to the city, rather than expand the metropolitan area.

“It’s going to create widespread poverty in those areas and widespread use of cars which increases traffic problems but also creates issues with oil and makes it harder to transition away from oil,” he said.

“It is bowling over the most important biodiversity in the region, the areas of bushland to the north and the south are very important and we have to treasure it, not bowl it over for suburbs.”

“Building the city back in towards dense centres, not filling in our backyards, is the agenda and it is critical we come to terms with that and we unlock those dense centres by providing trackless trams to provide us with a much better options than cars.”

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once said Prof Newman was the man who taught him everything he knew about trains and cities, so the state government will be happy to hear he approves of their Metronet project.

“I’m extremely pleased to see Metronet happen, essentially fixing the fast train down each of the main corridors,” he said.

“There’s plenty more to do, the circle line going from Kenwick around to Cockburn needs to go all the way around to Fremantle, but things like that are fairly obvious, they’ve been touted and they will eventually get done.”

As director of Curtin University’s Sustainable Policy Institute, Prof Newman was engaged by several local governments this year to investigate a viable trackless tram concept.

He said the development of the concept would be a huge breakthrough in improving Perth’s public transport.

“It is a modern day, 21st century light rail and an extraordinary piece of new technology which will enable us to transform the inner and middle suburbs to do the kind of urban developments we need to make our city a far more attractive place and far less car dependent,” he said.

Prof Newman said trackless trams were one of three concepts he believed Perth needed to focus on to get the best out of the city.

“Lithium Valley has had a fair bit of publicity recently and that’s a way of making sure we manage this transition to the new energy economy,” he said.

“It is about us using the fact we have all those energy battery metals here and they’re all critical, so we need to make the most of that.

“Songlines and Sustainability is a deeper one, about the role of indigenous people in helping us how to manage our landscape and that is best done by enabling us to understand their songlines.

“It requires us to understand and accept their language, their songs are 60,000 years old and about the landscape, which we in our arrogance, think that we know because of science.”