THE HERALD'S OPINION: Reflections on the year about to end

With the sun about to set on 2017, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on this past 12 months, and where it leaves us as a region.

In economic terms, the Hunter as a whole is doing better than it has for some time, with noticeable improvements in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie labour market, as well as the Upper Hunter, which appears to have recovered strongly from the downturn in the coal industry. Unemployment rates of about 5 per cent in Newcastle and 4 per cent in the Upper Hunter are at levels that economists regard as full employment.

Of course, that is not necessarily the case at an individual level. Many casual workers would no doubt like more hours than they receive. But various measures compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Hunter Research Foundation Centre show an unmistakable trend of economic strengthening.

Given its construction impact, it is not surprising that the state government’s Revitalising Newcastle program of capital works has been one of the most talked-about issues of 2017.

Together with the disruptions associated with November’s Supercars race, the Newcastle central business district has copped a hammering this year, with shoppers staying away in droves while the excavators tear up Hunter Street in preparation for the light rail.

Despite the inconvenience at street level, people are rushing to snap up the considerable numbers of apartments being built at a range of inner-city sites, as a government-mandated program of urban consolidation takes rapid shape. With the removal of the heavy rail line the likely catalyst for this flurry of activity, the once unloved CBD is now an address in demand.

Despite growing concern here and abroad about the cost of Australian housing, there are still ample buyers willing and able to purchase property at prices that would have been unthinkable a decade or so ago. That developer Doma was able to sell the 154 apartments in its Lume project at Honeysuckle for more than $150 million in just five days shows the demand for inner-city living. Further west, subdivisions around Maitland are proving as popular as ever.

All this means that the Hunter is a place in which increasing numbers of people wish to live. Its qualities may no longer be well-kept secrets, but they remain as alluring as they’ve always been.

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