Our work with remote communities in northern Australia wins International Award for Planning Excellence

Jennifer Shand Jennifer Shand Australasia Press Office,Sydney
10 May 2021

A plan to sustainably grow the economy of a vast region of northern Australia has won global recognition, receiving the International Award for Planning Excellence 2021 from the Royal Town Planning Institute.  

The Cape, Torres and Gulf Economic Opportunities Plan was developed by Arup in close collaboration with the Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA) and 14 local councils which serve communities living across more than 130,000sq km.

The judges described the project’s approach to community engagement as exemplary because “it highlighted the key benefit of early engagement with local communities in the consultation process”. 

The commendation said: “The role of the planners was clear and the judges were impressed by the level of work they achieved over such a large area. The scale therefore demonstrated a high level of coordination and strategic thinking. Their work had a meaningful impact, tackled many economic, social and environmental issues and would be likely to have long-term impacts.”

The core Arup team included Michelle Cottrell, Sara Golingi, Jaime Traspaderne, Caryl Heraldo and Fran Dance.

“We are so proud to be internationally recognised for this project. It is a testament to the dedication, input and effort of everyone, including Arup, the Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance and the 14 local councils,” said Michelle Cottrell, Project Manager and Lead Planner, Arup, and Melinda Eades, Executive Officer, Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance.

The Plan is the first cohesive, locally-led economic strategy for the Cape York, Torres Strait and Gulf region, which has a population of 28,000. It was developed with strong community involvement and consensus about the vision, objectives and actions for sustainable growth, and articulated social and cultural values to guide public and private sector investment. 

Our work focused on ideas where we could drive growth at a regional scale. We took care to appropriately balance and scale the economic opportunities with social and environmental considerations. ”

Michelle Cottrell Project Manager and Lead Planner

The region’s large young population, rich culture and heritage, outstanding natural environment and proximity to Asian markets make it well placed to benefit from targeted investment. The project team reviewed opportunities in tourism, energy, mining, arts and culture, agriculture, education, health care and social services, environmental management and protection.

The award-winning Plan identifies a number of transformational strategies, next steps and recommendations around implementation planning, potential partnerships and funding and financing.

The RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence celebrate exceptional examples of planning and the contribution planners make to society. The Institute has more than 26,000 members world-wide. 

RTPI President Wei Yang FRTPI said the winners demonstrated how planning is an essential public service for our community. “The winners have acted beyond boundaries to make positive and impactful changes – a perfect way of showing the world the positive role planners play in our society,” he said.

In 2020 the project won the Queensland Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) Best Planning Ideas (Large Project) Award.