OPINION: Planning crucial for jobs in the city

A MATE of mine reckons he  needs only two things: milk in the fridge and someone who loves him.

I reckon there is a third essential: a job.

The latest census figures tell us about jobs performance in the Hunter. 

The good news is that between 2006 and 2011 the number of jobs grew in all our major local government areas. 

The biggest growth occurred in Muswellbrook (up by 20.5per cent) and Singleton (up by 17.4per cent). No doubt mining is driving this jobs growth. 

Jobs growth in the Lower Hunter was also healthy. 

Jobs growth from 2006 to 2011 in each of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and Cessnock comes in around the 10per cent mark, while Maitland has had standout growth of over 15per cent. 

This is all good stuff when you consider the giant whack to the world economy from the global financial crisis in 2007. 

Of particular interest is the census breakdown for the Newcastle local government area.

The figures show just how scattered jobs have become in the region’s capital. There are now six separate concentrations of jobs in and around Newcastle. 

The largest concentration is still the Newcastle CBD and adjoining Cooks Hill area which hosts 16,574 jobs. 

Snapping at the CBD’s heels, though, is the Hamilton-Broadmeadow area with 10,922 jobs. Then there are three suburban concentrations. These are the Shortland-Jesmond area (6879 jobs) which is based on the university, the Lambton-New Lambton area (8789) based on the John Hunter hospital, and the Adamstown-Kotara area (5989) which hosts a big shopping mall, and sheds for bulky goods retailing. 

Importantly, Newcastle’s industrial sector marches on, despite the inattention of governments. The census reveals that the industrial and portside belt that runs from Kooragang Island through to Mayfield and Carrington is still home to a total of 17,943 jobs. A one-sentence summary of the jobs part of the census, then, is that the suburbanisation of jobs in Newcastle continues, and there are no signs of a CBD resurgence. 

But is this a bad thing? 

On one hand, more jobs in the suburbs means jobs are closer to where people live. But there are downsides. One is that people are pretty much forced to drive to work, meaning one car on the roads for every job. And with people driving every which way to work, every major intersection becomes a traffic pinch point. 

This also means that public transport planners go nuts attempting to match bus routes with commuting patterns. 

The suburbanisation of jobs is also a concern for the city’s future economic development. 

New Lambton has a great hospital but the area lacks the sort of spin-off industries in health you find clustered around similar hospitals such as at Westmead in Sydney’s west. Likewise, for all its success, our university has failed to generate a critical mass of innovation and technology industries in and around its campus. 

Which brings me to another set of statistics released recently. 

These are the predictions by the NSW Bureau of Transport Statistics for 2046. These help planners get ready for future growth, to make sure we have commercial and industrial lands in place and that transport corridors are set aside. 

Remember that over the next three decades, the Lower Hunter’s five local government areas will merge into a single large city with between 700,000 and 750,000 people. This is an increase of over 200,000 people from today’s number. That’s a lot of milk and loved ones. 

It will also require a lot of jobs growth. Fortunately the Bureau of Transport Statistics provides detailed pathways of what sorts of jobs we can expect and where they might be located. 

Its figures for inner Newcastle bear thinking about. 

The bureau  says that we should expect more than  20,000 additional jobs in inner Newcastle by 2046. 

It says the biggest growth will be in health care (4893 more jobs), followed by professional, scientific and technical services (up by 4768), public administration (up by 4395), retail (up by 3612), accommodation and food services (up by 3151), and financial and insurance services (up by 2939). 

In other words, the NSW government’s expert advisers say that inner Newcastle and its CBD will rise once more to become a prosperous, jobs-rich heart of a growing city. 

Planners need to prepare for such a city. 

Commercial and other employment lands must be reserved from residential encroachment. And public transport corridors must be retained. 

Which includes, of course, a rail line from the city’s heart to provide lower Hunter workers with access to quality CBD jobs, and as well as high-speed access to that evil sister down south.

Phillip O’Neill is a professor of economic geography at the University of Western Sydney.

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