Published 10 February 2018, The Courier, Ballarat
Ballarat has benefited from governments’ focus on regional development in the past decade, with all levels of government backing regional consultative bodies and regional groupings of councils. There has been a mixture of talking and project action, which recognises our region’s potential for growth. But is all this fair dinkum? Is the government underestimating the opportunity for real growth in the regions?
The population projections tell different stories. Victoria’s current population is 5.5 million and official figures project a population of 10.1 million in the year 2051, and guess what – eight million of those people are expected to be in Melbourne. That leaves only 2.1 million in the regions across the state and Committee for Ballarat thinks that is not putting your money where your mouth is.
Governments need to get serious about regional growth, and we have a critical role to play. Our future should be determined by those who live here and understand the opportunities, which are based on their lived experience and real data. We understand best what our capacity is, what our needs are, and what a vibrant and prosperous future regional city can look like. We need to work with other regional communities and advocate for boosting our growth rates with a strong and united regional voice.
Plan Melbourne acknowledges the need to rebalance growth into regional Victoria, but current policies will do little more than maintain a status quo proportionality. The official projection of 150,000 people is completely out of kilter when there is recognition already that 200,000 people is a proper target for us.
Ballarat is projected to grow by 42,000 people in the next 12 years to about 150,000 (around 3500 people a year), whereas Melton and Wyndham continue to be among the largest and fastest growth areas.
Why? Because it’s easier to have people living in affordable houses of the same old suburban type? Easier to continue the dominance of Melbourne-based growth that follows the same old patterns?
Not only is this problematic for housing and liveability, it means there will be greater overcrowding on our trains and our service will get worse rather than better over the next few years until the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project is completed.
So, are we acting quickly enough on the infrastructure we desperately need? And are we supporting the development of housing options that will attract diverse groups of people and cater for different needs in people’s life stages? Committee believes we are not focused broadly enough on who is driving demand.
Single-person households are projected to increase (25% to 28%) and families with children to decrease (43% to 40%). That makes it quite obvious that while suburban development will remain popular for families, there must be more choice for one- and two-person households, which will comprise the majority of households (56%).
And what of other opportunities?
The older demographic of our communities is fortunate to be living longer and enjoying active retirement, including useful part-time work. Technology is redefining services through robotics and artificial intelligence, so we must think about design and housing implications within those contexts. There will be no easing of Melbourne’s congestion, unless, of course, on-demand driverless shuttles can redefine transport in some miraculous way. We don’t even understand the potential or consequences of these yet, but architects in some countries are already excluding garages from their designs.
If we think these propositions are too far-fetched, we will never be seen as a progressive, sustainable and welcoming region.
Let’s be the first to have driverless shuttle buses, the first to train technicians for our new energy future, to be powered by 100 per cent locally generated energy, and the first to capture the enormous scope for redefining housing choices with excellence in design by locals. Let’s encourage and facilitate innovation by recognising the need for continued advocacy to governments and oppositions to convey the story of opportunity.
Our sister organisation, Committee for Melbourne, understands and supports regional access requirements in its Airport Link discussion paper, which says “… key regional hubs will be vital in facilitating growth of the nationally and internationally linked specialist technical, health, education and business jobs.”
That is a powerful rationale for investing in planning for a future Ballarat that is thriving and progressive; a Ballarat that embraces change and plans for housing diversity and infrastructure to preserve our liveability.
Planning for our future growth needs a basis in facts and a clear understanding of what should be ahead to avoid replicating Melbourne’s suburban problems.
As locals, we understand this best. Committee will continue to advocate accordingly.
Chair Committee for Ballarat