From 14-15 April 2018, the Gold Coast hosted the 21st Commonwealth Games, showcasing 23 sports with representatives from 70 nations. With doubts surrounding the capacity of new and existing infrastructure to meet demand and questions raised about how to best reuse the infrastructure built during the event, the Games presented a range of unique opportunities and challenges far beyond the 11 days of competition.
The success of any global sporting event relies on the host city’s ability to plan and execute a range of infrastructure delivery outcomes, with opportunities and pitfalls at every turn.
The discussion paper, The Legacy of Commonwealth Games Infrastructure – minimising the effects of ‘white elephant’ infrastructure post Gold Coast 2018, was released by the Emerging Professionals in Infrastructure Queensland (EPIQ).
It examines Gold Coast 2018, as well as previous international major events held around the globe, to gain a greater understanding of the common pitfalls and potential avenues to leverage benefits of the Games for Queensland.
A primary incentive for bidding to host a major sporting event such as the Commonwealth Games is the legacy value it provides the host city.
This value can include a range of long-term benefits including ongoing tourism expenditure, infrastructure investment, new events and community sports participation.
With reports suggesting that the Games could inject $4 billion into the Queensland economy, attract 1.5 million spectators and a global television audience of 1.5 billion, the Queensland Government was able to deliver three new competition venues and undertake major upgrades to seven facilities prior to the event. In addition to these new facilities, major transport network upgrades such as Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 2 (GCLR2), were also completed.
The challenge for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games
The perceived success of Gold Coast 2018 was under the microscope before it had even begun, with media outlets citing transport management as a major concern.
The perception of potential public and private transport issues was often discussed through the lens of the expected excessive congestion on the M1, which, along with the postponed delivery of the Gold Coast Airport redevelopment project, fueled concerns among many of the Games’ critics.
However, this was in contrast to the successful delivery of GCLR2 and the Coomera to Helensvale rail duplication, which were positively received by the community and commentators alike. Delivery of other infrastructure projects also seemed to pass the public test, including the new Games Village with residential, retail, recreation, dining and medical facilities.
Many developed and developing nations have hosted major sporting events in recent history, so a lot can be learnt from looking back. An analysis of the infrastructure legacy outcomes of those who have gone before appears as fickle as a game of snakes and ladders. Global reviews such as this, highlighting the range of challenges experienced in the past, forced Gold Coast 2018 organisers to sit up and take notice.
A strong collaborative approach to planning positioned the Games for gold
In 2013, early in the planning phase for Gold Coast 2018, the then Newman Government released Embracing 2018, a blueprint for government to deliver on its promise of ‘a transformative legacy, creating active and inclusive communities, diverse and enduring economic growth and greater reconciliation and social justice’.
The latest iteration of the Embracing 2018 Legacy Program seeks to prolong the benefits of Gold Coast 2018 through maximising long-term community, sport and health benefits, and strengthening Queensland’s standing as Australia’s top tourism destination.
In preparation for Gold Coast 2018, the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation (GOLDOC) and the Queensland Government focused not only on planning a successful event, but transitioning seamlessly into the period after the Games.
The Embracing 2018 Legacy Program aims to create long-lasting benefits through eight key programs and a range of supporting initiatives. Programs include: Trade and Investment; Tourism; Supporting Queensland Business; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Initiatives; Sport and Healthy Lifestyles; Engaged and Inclusive Communities; Arts and Culture; and Inspiring Games.
Infrastructure investment boosted activity in the region
Now that the games have finished, the $550 million Parklands Project – which will only be leased to GOLDOC – will be re-purposed into a mixed–use residential community within the broader Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct.
A sustainable approach was also taken to prepare competition venues with a mix of existing, new, upgraded and temporary sites being used. Three new venues were developed, including the $59 million Anna Meares Velodrome, the $40 million Coomera Indoor Sport Centre, and the $105 million Gold Coast Sports and Leisure Centre.
Seven existing venues were upgraded or refurbished and the ‘Super Stage’ at Village Roadshow Studios Oxenford was temporarily fitted out as a competition venue. A number of other sites did not require any major or costly upgrades to meet competition standards.
Similar to the Athlete’s Village, and under the banner of re-purposing infrastructure, the majority of the competition venues were flagged for transition into use by the local community and for future events following the Games.
Various other sustainable infrastructure projects were delivered to support the Games and provide opportunities for long-term value, with the City of Gold Coast outlining 38 programs that would provide a catalogue of benefits to the region.
These projects have been categorised thematically, and endeavour to deliver on initiatives across transport; culture; skills development; education; digital development; environment; health and lifestyle; community benefit; spatial information sharing; safety and security; beach nourishment and business; trade and investment. These programs aim to provide Australia, Queensland and the Gold Coast with an economic and social uplift.
Did the Gold Coast make a podium finish?
Transport infrastructure was identified as a major risk, with significant capacity demand during the Games. Importantly, the infrastructure delivered for Gold Coast 2018 aligned with the State Infrastructure Plan.
Since 2016, the Queensland Government has delivered $320 million of planned infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games, some of which were accelerated into delivery in time for the Games.
Despite this level of planning and accelerated project start dates, in December 2016, the Commonwealth Games Federation wrote a letter to GOLDOC Chair Peter Beattie highlighting apparent inefficiencies in the host city’s transport plan.
The letter specifically noted concerns around the need for expanded train services and shuttle buses, in addition to recommending further consideration be given to traffic concerns on the M1. The Federation warned if the 14 steps outlined in their letter were not undertaken greater effects may be felt throughout the Games and beyond.
Follow up correspondence from the Federation specifically noted that while GOLDOC and the Queensland Government had taken steps toward planning and modelling the proposed requirements, final decisions needed to be made to ensure the necessary measures were in place in time for the Games.
In June 2017, GOLDOC’s Transport Operations Plan (TOP) was released which identified several key transport legacy outcomes including partnerships, enhanced transport coordination, transport infrastructure upgrades, permanent change in travel behaviour, and enhanced transport planning information.
The positive signs that came from the TOP – including a supplementation of the train network with bussing –and social media campaigns that aimed to actively engage with the Gold Coast and travelling community, gave hope that with a little planning and considerable political action, great long-term benefits could be achieved.
Some plans however don’t always make it to fruition. The $200 million capacity upgrade of the Gold Coast Airport was partially delivered in time for the Games to alleviate delays and queuing of more than 126,000 visitors, athletes, officials and media.
These works will now not be completed until mid-2018 and well after the last athlete has left the village.
While it was expected that the transport network around the Gold Coast would come under pressure during the all-important 11 days of competition, and despite the potential for delays at the airport, the successful delivery of essential transport infrastructure undoubtedly helped meet transport demand.
This infrastructure will now have a lasting impact on how travellers move throughout the region, beyond the Games.
What will be critical beyond 2018
EPIQ believes GOLDOC and the Queensland Government took the time to strategically plan for the Games and learn from those who had gone before them. The risk was then in the execution, but with 15,000 volunteers, hundreds of paid staff and four years of strategic legacy planning, the Gold Coast and Queensland were able to enjoy a successful outcome.
The holistic planning put in place positioned the region to transition the short-term benefits from Gold Coast 2018 into long-term benefits for the Gold Coast’s residents, businesses, workers and tourists well into the future.
Viewers around the world were spoilt for choice when it came to watching some of the world’s best athletes compete along Queensland’s golden beaches, but EPIQ is now excited to see how the transport and broader infrastructure legacy story unfolds.
EPIQ remains optimistic that the strategic planning and investment undertaken to-date provided an appropriate platform for the Games and beyond.