The economy in space: local government planning and economic development*

Article image - The economy in space: local government planning and economic development*

By Sasha Lennon, Director SC Lennon & Associates

By definition ‘economic development’ refers to the mutually-supporting and complementary relationship between improvements in economic growth, social inclusion, community wellbeing, cultural diversity, a sense of ‘place’ and the environment.

Economic development is holistic in nature. This means any strategy designed to enhance an area’s economic development prospects, for which the local Council is the custodian, must involve each of its departments - community planning, environmental planning, infrastructure planning, corporate planning and, importantly, urban planning and development - to varying degrees.

Generally speaking, there are three areas where the economic development activities of a Council can be pursued:

1. business information and support within the local government area;

2. promotion of the local area (and wider region) as a place to visit, live, work and invest in; and

3. place-making within the local government area to facilitate infrastructure and urban development projects.

The first two areas above deal with the economic space and the third with the physical space. This has implications for determining the role of a council’s ‘economic development unit’, which should be mandated to operate in both the economic and the physical space. Importantly, it should pursue its economic development functions in partnership with other relevant sections of the council.

The importance of good urban and regional planning to economic development cannot be underestimated and through this mechanism, councils can have a major influence on their community’s economic development prospects.

Apart from their role in providing support for new and existing businesses, and preparing information and material to help promote and attract business investment, a lot of what councils do to facilitate sustainable economic development outcomes is place-based. These placed-based activities are focussed on the physical enablers of growth (i.e. infrastructure) and the land use planning frameworks and regulations which guide business development.

As well as ensuring that adequate land is available for development, land use planning can reinforce existing or emerging industry clusters by providing appropriate signals relevant to the performance and locational requirements of the key identified industries.

As urban planning and place-making are fundamental to achieving economic development outcomes, it is vital that a whole-of-organisation approach to economic development facilitation is embraced by local government.

Increasing awareness among all council staff (and elected representatives) of the contribution that good urban planning makes to economic development is an important first step. If the activities of planners and economic development officers are well integrated, and if councillors and the executive understand and encourage this collaborative, strategic approach to economic development, the communities they serve can only benefit.

*Copy supplied by SC Lennon and Associates