THE HERALD'S OPINION: Fighting Sydney's giant footprint

AS our weekly Newcastle Herald columnist, Phillip O’Neill, observed on Monday, the state government has released a new Regional NSW Services and Infrastructure Plan, although with an absolute minimum of fanfare.

Given that this document, currently in draft form, sets out the government’s planning priorities for regional NSW between now and 2056, it has the potential to be a vitally important initiative. But as it stands, it is little more than a compilation of wish-lists of every infrastructure project ever touted, but with very few of them – as Professor O’Neill pointed out – in the here and now. Perhaps that is inevitable in a document with a 40-year time frame, in a political realm where most governments are battling to see beyond their next visit to the polls. But strip away the rhetoric of Newcastle being a Global Gateway City – and the Central Coast and Greater Newcastle being the state’s “largest regional centres in 2056” – and what we find is a document dominated by the already massive and rapidly growing footprint of greater Sydney.

For all of the emphasis on regional growth, the key demographic assumptions underpinning the document reveal something entirely different.

The report puts greater Sydney’s population at 4.7 million in 2016, rising to 6.3 million in 2036 and 7.9 million in 2056. That’s an increase of 3.2 million people, or 68 per cent, over 40 years.

By comparison, greater Newcastle goes from 630,000 in 2016 to 850,000 in 2036 and 910,000 in 2056. That’s an increase of 280,000 people over 40 years, or less than one-tenth of the population increase envisaged for greater Sydney.

What this means is that for all of the talk about frustrated Sydneysiders making their way north to our more hospitable way of living – and it is happening – this is only a tiny part of the overall population picture.

Many of us don’t want the region to change, and are happy with the way things are, but in a capitalist democracy our fortunes are tied to jobs and jobs growth, and employers go with the flow of the people, rather than against it. Yes, Newcastle is getting some attention from the government, and our construction-riven CBD will soon enough be revealed anew, but we are fighting a global trend of people everywhere crowding into already dominant capital cities. Treading water is not progress.

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