The role of infrastructure is to create benefit. No one wants to see waste. And yet we have many failed, wasteful, projects. Some may fail for unforeseen, and unforeseeable, reasons. But many of them fail because their underlying assumptions were not tested. Nor is this only a problem for public infrastructure, private infrastructure is just as vulnerable.
Consider the Melbourne Docklands project where many of the apartments that the private sector built (and was encouraged to build) relied on the general assumption that people would be willing to sell up large properties on the outskirts of the city to take up apartment dwelling to benefit from closeness to city attractions – and pay large sums for the privilege. This assumption has proved not to be true in sufficient numbers to justify the construction and many apartments are still unsold or unlet.
In addition, many of the apartments that have been sold have been taken up as investment properties by wealthy Chinese seeking an alternative location for their money. No-one lives in these apartments. So the projections of demand for newly established retail outlets in the complex have not been met. Could this have been foreseen? Maybe the overseas investment was not obvious then. But certainly it would need to be taken into account from now on. However, retail demand depended on close to full occupancy.
Maybe this will self correct in 5 years or more. However, if take up was expected to take time then an interim strategy was needed. Now, what had the potential to be a very attractive redevelopment serving the wider community may now suffer if landlords attempt to recover their investment by letting their apartments to temporary dwellers who have no commitment to the area.
A serious consideration is whether the policy planners gave sufficient – or indeed any – thought to the problems that might be experienced on the outskirts of the city if their assumptions of mass departures to the city proved correct.
What questions do these stories raise in your minds? If you were on a decision committee for a large redevelopment project, what questions would you ask?