Building a ‘Greenfields’ Smart City in Australia

by Nov 20, 2018Governance, Society

Michael Whereat, Scott Bourke, and Paul Skillen

Michael Whereat ( is the Lead Technical Advisor on the SCIBN Project, Scott Bourke ( is Chief Innovation Officer and Paul Skillen ( is Head of Business Development for the Sunshine Coast Council.

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Back in 2013, the Oxford Martin Commission for Future Generations, chaired by former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy, released a ground-breaking report titled, Now for the Long Term.

It recognised the increasingly important leadership role that cities, city states, and regions will play in solving the world’s most pressing and complex development challenges.

As one of Australia’s leading local governments, Sunshine Coast Council has embraced the important leadership role highlighted by the Commission.

Council has supported the development of a progressive intelligent community and region focused on a vision of being Australia’s most sustainable region – healthy, smart, creative.

The development of the region and the efforts of Council have not gone unnoticed, with the worldwide Intelligent Community Forum naming the Sunshine Coast as an International Smart 21 City for 2018 for 4 of the past 5 years.

Although the region’s growth and innovation strategy is underpinned by a broad portfolio of inter-connected major, or what we refer to as “game changing”, projects and initiatives, two of the more important exemplar projects are worthwhile highlighting as they may be of interest to other urbanising or rapidly growing regions.

These projects are the new Maroochydore City Centre (MCC), which is the equivalent of a Central Business District (CBD), and the Sunshine Coast International Broadband Network (SCIBN).

Before we briefly discuss these projects and their anticipated benefits in building a “‘greenfields’ Smart City for the Digital Century”, here is an introduction to our region and local government organisation.


Who We Are

On the doorstep of Asia and the Pacific Rim, the popular and rapidly growing Sunshine Coast region (population 2018 – 320k, 2030 – 500k+ projected), in the state of Queensland, Australia is an increasingly recognised local, national and global destination for business and tourism.

Sunshine Coast Council, which is the local government body with oversight responsibility on behalf of the region’s residents to deliver on the region’s vision, recognises future prosperity lies in ideas, innovation and driving entrepreneurialism.

Innovation is the focus of three of the five strategic and performance pathways in Council’s goals for the region which are outlined in its Corporate Plan:

  • A smart economy (a regional hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity);
  • A healthy environment (a reputation for innovation, sustainability and liveability); and
  • An outstanding organisation (a reputation for implementing innovative and creative solutions for future service delivery).


Our Challenges

Across the whole of the Local Government sector, whether in Australia or more globally, the requirement for change is being driven by a range of political, financial and people factors. Like any organisation, Local Government authorities need to react to the increasing pace of change and adapt their operating models to match the needs of the future.

There are four key themes that are expected to shape Local Governments in the future and these themes have been central to identifying the context for the SCC in 2020 and beyond;

  1. The changing constituent
  2. The rising costs of service provision
  3. Changes to the way work is done and services are delivered
  4. The changing role of Local Governments
  5. Regional growth and demographic developments

In relation to growth and demographic developments, the predicted growth of our region over the coming decades (200,000 additional residents within the next 30 years) will raise the bar for our organisation significantly. Simply doing more, working harder, faster is unlikely to deliver the scale, complexity and sophistication of solutions and services required to meet the service expectations and needs of our growing community. Innovation – doing things differently and better – will need to be at the core of our response to these thematic influences.


How We’re Responding

A greenfield city centre as the centrepiece of a Smart Region.

The Sunshine Coast is growing from a series of regional villages and towns, with a large beautiful rural hinterland, to a mature urban decentralised city-state region. To complete the transition to a modern 21st century “city”, the region required a contemporary urban city centre built on digital foundations.

Council’s vision and leadership in realising this ambition has been pivotal in facilitating the development of the site to achieve both a holistic and human centric civic design. Today this 53-hectare ‘greenfield’ site in the heart of Maroochydore – hence the name Maroochydore City Centre (MCC) – is transforming into a CBD for the 21st digital century. It is believed to be the only development of its kind currently underway in any developed country.

Formally opening in late 2018, the new MCC will be embedded with smart technology throughout, creating a cleaner, greener, dynamic city centre that’s not only desirable and liveable; it will have a transformative impact on the region’s economy.

Moving beyond the boundaries of the MCC, Council’s Smart City Implementation Program (SCIP) is designed to put the region at the forefront of 21st century service delivery as Council actively seeks to harness the benefits of the digital revolution for all.

For example, within the MCC and across the region. Council is looking for creative ways to use technology to deliver smarter and more efficient services to improve the lifestyle of our residents, including the introduction and activation of smart services for waste, WiFi, parking, tourism and events, lighting, water, CCTV, signage, building information modelling, power and energy, sound, sensors, health and education.


International Broadband Submarine Cable

Recognising the fundamental importance that gigabit connectivity will increasingly play in underpinning the efficient and effective delivery of services and economic growth for the benefit of the regional community, the Sunshine Coast Council has partnered with RTI Connectivity Pty Ltd (RTI-C) to deliver the Sunshine Coast International Broadband Network (SCIBN).

From early in 2020, the SCIBN will deliver Australia’s fastest data and telecommunications connection to Asia and the second fastest to the United States, thanks to a new international broadband submarine cable agreement between Sunshine Coast Council and RTI-C which was announced on 7 September 2018.

The project includes a 550km undersea fibre optic cable that will connect the Sunshine Coast to the 9600km Japan-Guam-Australia-South (JGA-S) submarine cable, which is being delivered by a consortium including RTI-C, Google and AARNet.

The SCIBN project investment of AUD $35 million is being jointly funded by Sunshine Coast Council and the Queensland State Government, with the project forecast to deliver up to 864 new jobs and stimulate AUD $927 million in annual economic benefit for the state of Queensland.

With future-proof capacity, the new cable will increase data transmission speed, reduce risk and lead to a reduction in international communication costs for business and consumers, overcoming the current challenge where most of Queensland’s data and voice communications travel to Sydney via a terrestrial network, before heading to their international destination through existing submarine cables.


Connections and Learning

Although Council and the region have made great strides in our quest to establish the Sunshine Coast as a globally recognised smart and sustainable community, we recognise this is a journey as much as a destination and, further, that as the Oxford Martin Commission has noted, it is globally networked communities that will be critical in building “a sustainable,
inclusive and resilient future for all”

It is in this spirit that we would welcome the opportunity, leading up to and post the Meeting of the Minds (MotM) Annual Summit, to engage, share our own knowledge and experience as well learn from other members of the MotM community about their transformational journeys.

Please reach out to us if a dialogue could be of mutual benefit; we’d love to hear from you.


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  1. Does my heart good to read about Sunshine Coast progress in the right direction! I visited the region two years ago in conjunction with the EcoCities World Summit (held far south in Melbourne) and fell in love with the Brisbane metro region.

    Sunshine Coast may be forgiven if they don’t consider themselves part of the Brisbane metro, whose center is over 100 km south. But Sunshine Coast isn’t the only part of Southeast Queensland that’s growing rapidly, and by 2050 it’s a safe bet that they’ll be part of a continuous built-up area all the way to the Brisbane Centre. That seems to be how “edge cities” are agglomerated into prosperous metro regions.

    I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which is arguably an “edge city” of the Detroit metro region. As I travel around the world, I like to observe other edge cities, how they’re connected to the larger metro area, and whether they appear “successful” in attracting both knowledge workers and service workers. (The signs are pretty much the same around the world!)

    But sustainable transportation and connectivity with the rest of the Brisbane metro area aren’t mentioned in this article. The only mention of transportation, in fact, is “introduction and activation of smart services for … parking…”. Hmmm. Most cities reach a tipping-point somewhere before 250,000 where parking becomes a critical constraint on sustainable growth. Adding parking – smart or dumb – inevitably results in spreading productive land-uses apart to make room for non-productive automobile storage.

    Yet Queensland Rail (QR) has done an admirable job connecting the Brisbane metro region with frequent electric commuter service. The North Coast Line has trains at more-than-hourly frequency to Nambour, 15 km west of Maroochydore, a 20-minute drive or 40-minute bus ride. I’d say the connection to the new CBD with sustainable regional transportation needs significant improvement.

    Not only travel to Brisbane City Centre is at issue. A city with aspirations to international connections certainly does excellently to establish high-speed broadband connections to the rest of the world. But international travel doesn’t appear to decrease with better digital connections; probably the opposite. So how will people get from MCC to the nearest international airport? That would be Brisbane’s, 107 km and 90 minutes south by motorway, or three hours by QR local services.

    Many cities facing these constraints have put in express rail service to their airport(s) from distant parts of the metro region. London’s Gatwick, Stanstead, and Heathrow expresses are examples. Like them, Queensland’s rail infrastructure is there, but inadequate. For starters, double-track all the way to Nambour sounds like an important iinvestment. And the current right-of-way was apparently built in Queensland’s back-woods agriculture and mineral epoch: it wanders around many curves, looking from the air like the trail of a little, lost puppy. Of course, this severely limits train speeds, even more than the narrow gauge track does already. (But the gauge, same as Japan’s, has not prevented excellent rapid service on Tokyo’s Narita Express.)

    So I’ll eagerly wait to hear how Sunshine Coast completes this inspiring plan!

  2. I would enjoy talking with you as we are presently developing an Intelligent Merchant City (what some people might refer to as a smart city-I do not like the word) at Fawley Waterside in Hampshire in England. This is actually in a place where people want to live.

    We are addressing every touch point of life as we transition as a World into a digital future. My philosophy is we are only installing technology, whether its for healthcare, energy, transport and mobility if it enables better quality of life, if it doesn’t turn it off!

    I think despite our distance, our desire to deliver hope and belief and a sustainable future for our young people is paramount. We should talk and perhaps in time meet. Good luck with your endeavours. Much success to you all. Warm regards Brett Trafford


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