Value capture and uplift associated with infrastructure projects are often discussed but not well understood. This is because the issue sits at the crossroads of competing public and private interests, as well as institutional imperatives of project proponents.
From an economic perspective, it is a method of generating funds from economic rents – unearned private benefits from public investments – to deliver infrastructure projects. In the Australian context it is increasingly heralded as a potential new source of investment funds. However aspects of this approach have been used in both the US and the UK.
While there are over one hundred studies on value uplift around transport modes, impacts of other infrastructure types remain less well understood.
The Bureau of Transport, Infrastructure and Regional Economics has identified a range of factors assessing land value uplift challenging:
- separating factors driving uplift to identify the infrastructure impact;
- sampling errors in the estimation of land prices;
- determining the catchment for beneficiaries / the project area of influence; and
- isolating value uplift from network effects.
In essence, value uplift is where value flows from an infrastructure network are capitalised into land values. This is often observed regarding transport networks.
For the reasons outlined above, identifying value uplift is difficult in terms of identifying both who benefits and at what value. It is also why it has not been widely used to fund public infrastructure. However, there are two factors driving consideration of value capture funding:
- economic rents accrue to landholders benefiting from economic infrastructure – in effect private, unearned returns from public investment in public assets – these are above and beyond use benefits and raises a critical equity issue; and
- use revenues, particularly from public transport investments, are insufficient to fund infrastructure expenditures and are often complemented with significant subsidies from the public purse – value capture is seen as an alternative to increasing the general level of taxation revenue.
Overseas experience provides some guide to the types of value capture approaches, and each approach has its own pros and cons:
- tax inventive funding – hypothecated value uplift based on an expected increase in property tax revenue. Commonly, a government issues a bond, effectively guaranteeing a return that matches the expected value uplift increment. The value at risk, however, remains with the government issuer. This is one of the reasons most government treasuries oppose issuing these bonds – there is no transfer of financial risk associated with the value uplift increment.
- betterment taxes – land owners thought to be direct beneficiaries of an infrastructure development – but not necessarily users themselves – pay a levy. The levey is typivally on the unimproved capital value of the land. A key challenge with this approach is achieving a correct attribution of the increase in land value from the provision of the infrastructure and related services.
- transaction taxes – typically levied on property transfers. In this case, some of the property value increase attributed to the provision of publicly funded infrastructure will be collected by these taxes. However, this attribution is again difficult to to assess.
- joint development – usually where a licence or concession is given to a private agency to develop surrounding land in exchange for delivering economic infrastructure and services. This is a significant model for railway development, and is currently in use for heavy rail in Asian countries.
While a range of estimation problems have been identified above, network architecture remains the most significant factor. Hierarchy, connections and density influence this. While the literature on network architecture largely focuses on transport infrastructure, specifically road and rail assets, further analysis is needed of other linear infrastructure (i.e. water, electricity and gas).
Two broad solutions emerge: either a more to a more general land tax; or further detailed investigation of each specific infrastructure project. The important point is to adopt an approach that minimises market distortions and promotes economic efficiency.