Brisbane 2022 New World City: Enabling blue collar business?

by admin-king | 23rd November 2015

As against the big thinking revealed in the newly released Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan (Brisbane City Council, 2015), we advocate a complementary and local suite of initiatives that encourage ‘blue collar entrepreneurship’ to achieve a number of objectives for the Southeast Queensland region. Blue collar entrepreneurship represents the potential energy created when blue collar businesses are supported in their innovation and expansion efforts. Strategic economic development plans such as Brisbane 2022 can overlook its value. This situation usually occurs due to the nature of the business sectors (mostly white collar) and the research that inform a plan’s development.

The Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan (Brisbane City Council, 2015) presents a vision for Brisbane as a ‘globally-connected, prosperous city with an enviable irresistible lifestyle quality…’ (p 6). Its overriding goal is that Brisbane is ‘trading with the World’. Framed in this context of global market competition, the plan identifies and celebrates the city’s future growth sectors. It focuses on them as the vehicles to move Brisbane’s economy ‘to be more global-facing’ (p 20). The sectors are: international education and events, knowledge-based and creative industries, energy and resources, property development and construction, food and agribusiness, and advanced manufacturing. A local challenge for these and other sectors is the disjunction between employment locations and where people live. In the absence of a strategy to redress this imbalance such as a sophisticated public transit system, growth could be limited.

As Malcolm Aikman outlined in his lead article in King’s Counsel (Issue 40, Spring 2013), there is a general mismatch between the location of job and population growth. It means that people are often living a good distance from where jobs are being created. One possible outcome is long commutes to work which act to sap productivity. An ongoing problem for Brisbane correctly identified in the 2022 plan is congestion. In the absence of intervention through investment in public transit or local employment generation, long commutes from home to work will add to the current bottlenecks.

Aikman also identified the social, economic and environmental costs of extended commuting times and maintained that these impacts can be minimised by improved strategic planning. He recommends the Strategic South East Queensland Regional Plan as one mechanism to address the imbalance through improved alignment between residential and employment land and infrastructure investment. The Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan similarly supports a strategy to ‘pursue ongoing alignment for Brisbane’s land use, infrastructure and economic development strategies’ (p 23). It refers to ‘clustering opportunities’ in the region. We hope that these recommendations do not lose sight of the important blue collar sector and the potential growth pathways it offers. The plan’s aspiration for a ‘vibrant Brisbane start-up culture’ (p 62) should include such businesses.

Blue collar entrepreneurship has the potential to redress the imbalance between work and home for factory, warehouse and other blue collar workers. It is also a way to maximise the economic contribution of the many hard working Australians, migrants and refugees resident in the region. Among other recommendations, Brisbane 2022 encourages small to medium sized enterprises to ‘connect with the community to access the resources they need to innovate and grow’ (p 23). Blue collar businesses need a mix of lot sizes in areas with high levels of amenity that promote a favourable experience for workers, visitors and customers.

One of the resources that blue collar businesses will need to grow is land in industrial precincts located close to relatively affordable residential growth areas. The south west industrial gateway district offers opportunities but its development pattern could be problematic. Brisbane’s City Plan 2014 specifies a minimum lot size for general and low impact industry areas of 1 000 m2. The current 1 000 m2 minimum lot size could thwart the potential for entrepreneurs to own a freehold site and undertake a modest development on their land. King and Co recently sold and leased strata-titled site of small 80 m2 industrial spaces at Tingalpa and found that the market competition for this configuration was fierce. The 1 000 m2 minimum lot size in the low impact industry and general industry A zones and 2 000 m2 in the general industry B zone could be a constraint for blue collar entrepreneurs. The one-employee business that seeks to expand ‘close to home’ might find few options in the region’s current industrial estates. In addition to a range of lot sizes and high amenity industrial developments, effective public transport access should also be prioritised. The current system favours white collar commuters who work in the central business district. More can be done to improve public transport access to industrial areas.

There is another angle to industrial development in Brisbane and it applies in the greyfield middle ring suburbs such as Geebung, Cooper Plains, Rocklea and Northgate. These areas are the home of a good deal of ageing post-war industry, some of which for historical reasons could be located on small lots. For certain Brisbane residents, these precincts might be ‘eyesores’, but others see them as potential blue collar business incubators. This secondary space might lack wide clear span or high roller doors, but it should not be overlooked as affordable accommodation for blue collar entrepreneurs. Not all start-ups can manage the monthly outgoings of a newly constructed, prestige strata development, even if it offers relatively small floor space opportunities.

Laurel Johnson, School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, University of Queensland

Comments are closed.