News and published articles in 2019 to 2016

  • Crunching the numbers on city 'activation'

    Wednesday, 22 May, 2019


    What does it take to create a vibrant city centre? To answer this question, we researchers at the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre are seeking to identify, integrate and animate data sets on population, transport use, and economic activity.

    Many key agencies and organisations collect relevant data, with some data made publicly available. Such data are already helping to indicate progress on revitalising Newcastle. ‘Activation’ of the city’s precincts can be progressively measured and communicated to inform planning with the help of these and other relevant data sets. Key to that is assembling a revealing dashboard of indicators. Such a dashboard is a current focus of the HRF Centre. It could include figures on use of public transport.

    Publicly available transport data indicate how our city is changing. The data show significant growth in patronage in the past 12 months. Of particular note is the increasing use across all public transport modes by adults– Newcastle buses, the Stockton ferry and the heavy rail Hunter line, according to rolling, 12-month averages.

    Newcastle bus usage by adults grew by 9.3 per cent over the year to April, an average of 10,513 extra trips per month (350 extra trips per day). Stockton ferry use by adults grew by 5.5 per cent, averaging an extra 1,344 trips per month (44 extra trips per day); and the Hunter train line by 7.2 per cent annually or 2,804 extra adult trips per month (93 extra trips per day).

    Added to the increases on other public transport modes are the 229,034 trips on the light rail in March and April, of which 121,871 were adults as measured by Opal card usage. Overall, the data across the public transport modes indicate around 75,000 additional adult public transport trips per month, in and around Newcastle, as compared to a year ago. That is an extra 2,400 instances per day of adult public transport usage - suggesting an extra 1200 adults per day are new or returning public transport users for their return work commute, shopping trip or visit.

    When trying to gauge activation of specific city precincts, some publicly available datasets, such as bus and heavy rail ridership, currently lack sufficient granularity. They are not showing enough information about where people started and where they got off the bus, for example. However, they can still be useful when used in context with other data.

    The publicly available data on the light rail usage are much more detailed. They enable us to identify the most and least utilised stops. We get an early or baseline indicator of current ‘activation’ of city precincts – that is, where people are going. Such insight offers the potential to predict what strategies might increase activation. This information enables government and business to understand the potential benefits of planned public or private investment.

    The rail-light rail interchange is the busiest stop on the new route. The graphic below shows the next most ‘activated’ light rail stops. Newcastle Beach and Civic, with access to the University’s city campus, are the busiest. That is followed by Queens Wharf (with access to the Stockton ferry), Honeysuckle (TAFE), and finally Crown Street. Will the Crown Street stop move up the rankings when the large number of East End apartments and offices, currently under construction, are completed? What about the usage of the Honeysuckle and Civic light rail stops when the University’s Innovation Hub and School of Creative Industries building is completed?

    The linkage of the light rail stops to other public transport modes – e.g., Queens Wharf stop to the Stockton ferry, and the Newcastle Interchange to both the Hunter and Central Coast/Sydney rail lines – can be seen to foster “multi-modal” transit. This story will be interesting to follow.

    A meaningful set of indicators to measure the activation of the city – and region – require analysis of more data from more sources. At the HRF Centre, we are talking to regional stakeholders who manage or use relevant data. They are being invited to a ‘data-tent’. The data sharing that can result would enable us to conduct more detailed and nuanced analysis and to identify key indicators for the publicly available dashboard that we see is needed.

    It is not a fishing expedition. Rather, the Centre’s researchers provide expertise in analysing and interpreting a variety of data sources to identify the figures that provide the most revealing and relevant insights on Newcastle and the Hunter region. The team are skilled in the confidential management of large data sets, and the University provides valuable support in that process.

    Newcastle and Lake Macquarie represent living laboratories within which we can witness economic and social transformation. We are excited by the prospect of leading development of a ground-breaking social-mapping dashboard to demonstrate their progress. Smart cities that are open to the world provide such information as it gives confidence to those who are considering moving in, investing or setting up shop.

    Karl Strichow, Research Affiliate, HRF Centre, University of Newcastle

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on 22 May 2019

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  • Business innovation focus of Hunter Economic breakfast

    Thursday, 16 May, 2019


    A higher proportion of Hunter businesses innovated in 2018 than the national rate, according to the latest data from the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre.

    The HRF has collected data on local business innovation since 2009. Each year 300 local businesses are asked whether they introduced new or significantly improved goods and services in the year prior. Figures from the 2018 survey were released at the Hunter Economic Breakfast on 16 May. They show that 45 per cent of Hunter businesses said that they innovated during the year prior. This rate is above the national rate of businesses claiming to have successfully introduced or implemented a new good or service (17%) or any broader innovation (38.3%) in 2016-17. The Hunter rate is on par with the proportion of businesses claiming to be innovation-active Australia wide.

    Dr Anthea Bill, HRF Centre’s lead economist, said the latest data show why innovation is an imperative for all businesses in the Hunter.

    “Our Hunter time series confirms that there is a relationship between innovation and improved performance,” Dr Bill stated. “It also shows that the benefits for firms who innovate have been growing over time.”

    In 2009, the start of the HRF data series, there was virtually no difference between innovators and non-innovators in the share of firms reporting improved profitability. In 2018, firms who were innovating were more likely to report their profitability was increasing ‘moderately or substantially’ than non-innovating firms. The same was true of firms who were hiring, exporting and experiencing improved trading performance. Greater benefits accrued to innovators versus non-innovators in 2018 compared to 2009.

    Dr Bill delivered her insights on the growth of the Hunter’s innovation ecosystem to a 250-strong business audience at the breakfast in Newcastle. Her research demonstrates the value to cities and regions of connectivity and open innovation. Click on the link to download the Centre’s latest Innovation in Hunter Businesses publication.

    Sander Van Amelsvoort, Director of SJS Strategy, and the Immediate Past President of the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce Australia, was guest speaker at the breakfast. He provided an international case study in collaboration across sectors on development of a vibrant innovation ecosystem in Eindhoven.

    Eindhoven has successfully transitioned its economy, over two decades, to be recognised as one of the most innovative regions in Europe. With only four per cent of the Netherlands population, the Greater Eindhoven area - now known as the 'Brainport' region - generates 44 per cent of the country’s patents and 19 per cent of its private investment. Van Amelsvoort shared some ‘takeaways’ for Newcastle and the Hunter based on Eindhoven’s experiences.

    The Hunter Economic Breakfast was an event in the 2019 Hunter Innovation Festival.

    Click the link to download the speaker presentations.

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL
  • Energy for Japan, China, India: Future coal exports from the Hunter

    Tuesday, 16 April, 2019


    Hunter decision makers should prepare for the effects of a global shift from coal-fired electricity generation to renewable sources, according to Tony Wood, Energy Program Director for the Grattan Institute.

    Wood spoke at the Upper Hunter economic breakfast in Muswellbrook on 10 April. He told a capacity crowd of 170 that this shift is being driven by concerns about climate change by policymakers and investors.

    “The direction and drivers of change are clear,” Wood says. “Less clear are the scale and rate of change in Australia over the next three decades.”

    The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) forecast says that global coal demand is forecast to remain stable over the next five years. Declines in Europe and North America will be offset by strong growth in India and South-east Asia.

    Wood compared the rate of growth in new coal-fired power stations versus the retirement of old ones. More capacity in coal-fired electricity generation is to be shut down globally within the next five years than to enter service.

    What does that mean for coal exports from Australia and the Hunter?

    “We have little influence over the global trend. Yet, its implications for our export coal revenues are existential” Wood emphasised. “That is an important lesson from the numbers.”

    In the short term, Wood says that Australia’s thermal coal exports look stable. In the longer term, he noted, the risks for thermal coal exports are on the downside, and could accelerate quickly.

    He compared Australia’s response to preparing for these trends with the five stages of grief.

    “Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes us eventually able to navigate loss. We are currently struggling with denial.

    “In the denial stage, we are able to find data and opinions to support our preferred view of the world and ignore the data that say otherwise. Ultimately, the accumulating, quantitative and qualitative data should lead to acceptance and strategic planning.”

    Wood said that recent data show that Australia has more time for planning and a strong economy to fund change. He warned that this opportunity should not be wasted.

    “Industries, governments, social advocates and community organisations can deliver a better outcome if they are mobilised together,” he stated. “Without plans, everything becomes reactive and much more painful.

    “A strategic plan is required based on a pragmatic view of the data and trends. It  needs to be informed by scenario planning for the region.”

    He suggested that the Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre could conduct scenario modelling to inform planning for the effects of different potential outcomes in the region. The Centre will seek support for such a study.

  • Hunter needs to prepare for the future

    Tuesday, 9 April, 2019


    The world must eliminate coal-fired power within about 30 years for any chance to meet agreed climate-change targets. Coal usage is falling in most developed economies. At the same time, developing economies are expanding power generation from coal and renewables to meet the energy needs of their people. With thermal coal exports worth around $25 billion last year, Australia and its coal-exporting regions such as the Hunter Valley need to understand these changes and their consequences.

    Some facts can be valuable. Globally, there are now about 2,400 coal power plants with about 2,000 gigawatts of generation capacity, double what it was in 2000. Coal generates 40 per cent of the world’s electricity. There are about 270 new coal-fired power plants under construction, representing 200-250 gigawatts of capacity.

    The overwhelming share of new capacity is being constructed for developing economies. China’s coal fleet grew five-fold between 2000 and 2017 to almost 1,000 gigawatts, and India’s fleet more than trebled over the same period, to more than 200 gigawatts. Together, these countries added close to 50 gigawatts of new coal capacity in 2017 alone, almost as much as Australia’s total installed generation capacity.

    Yet, these numbers disguise a significant trend. As shown in the chart, as new plants are being built, older plants are being retired. Annual net capacity globally grew by about 80 gigawatts in 2011, but the figure for the yearly increase had fallen to less than 20 gigawatts by 2018. The rate of building coal plants has been slowing even in the developing economies, with concerns about local air pollution adding to their national commitments to emissions reduction. Fossil fuels’ share of capacity growth fell from around 60 per cent in 2012 to 40 per cent in 2017. The world is turning away from coal and the trend is accelerating.

    Despite the declining trend, coal continues to play an important role in power supply, contributing to a 1.2 per cent increase in thermal coal exports from NSW in 2018. These exports grew steadily from about 100 million tonnes in 2008 to about 170 million tonnes in 2015, but they have been flat since then. The strength of these exports underpins the Minerals Council’s confident statements on the future of coal.

    These contrasting developments provide ample material for selective data gatherers to ‘prove’ that coal is still king or that coal is on the way out. But the trend clearly supports the latter, albeit at an unknown pace. The International Energy Agency says the rate at which global governments commit to the spirit of the Paris Agreement will determine whether global coal demand stays flat or falls by nearly two-thirds over the next 20 years.

    Australia needs to make its own decisions on how quickly we respond to this trend. We have little influence over the global trend, but its implications for our export coal revenues are existential. That is the lesson from the numbers.

    The complement to the transition away from coal is the transition toward lower-emissions power generation – basically solar, wind and hydro. This shift presents a range of challenges and opportunities.

    In 2017, the Finkel Review recommended a Clean Energy Target as a policy to meet the Coalition Government’s target of a 26 per cent reduction in electricity sector emissions by 2030. This policy would deliver 42 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 on a pathway to zero emissions by 2070. Current federal Labor policy is for 45 per cent emissions reduction and 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, with a 2050 target of net zero emissions. At that level, the 2030 difference between Labor and the Coalition is remarkably small, given the vitriolic debate of the past decade.

    During this same time period, existing coal-fired plants will close. The rate of closure will be determined by policy and the economics of solar and wind generation, backed up by storage, natural gas and demand-response, which means adjustments in use by consumers.

    Precise forecasting is a bedeviled task. But, as with demand for coal exports, the domestic trend is clear: coal looks destined to be replaced by solar and wind generation over the next 30 years. The timing is less certain for the export market.

    For the Hunter Region, the first stage of grief is to acknowledge these uncomfortable facts and trends. It then becomes possible to plan for a future less dependent on domestic coal use and on coal exports. The worst outcome is illustrated by the impact on jobs and the local community in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley when the Hazelwood power plant shut in 2017 with only five months’ notice. The good news is that the trends for the Hunter region, for both domestic and international demand, allow plenty of time to adapt with the support of governments. That time should not be wasted.

    Tony Wood, Energy Program Director, Grattan Institute, spoke at the HRF Centre's Upper Hunter Economic Breakfast on 10 April, 2019.

    This opinion piece was published in the Newcastle Herald on 5 April, 2019.

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  • Upper Hunter recovery slows

    Tuesday, 9 April, 2019


    In December, Upper Hunter business and household expectations for the local economy continued to decline from their 2017 high. That is according to new analysis released at the Upper Hunter economic breakfast at Muswellbrook RSL on Wednesday, 10 April.

    Dr Anthea Bill, lead economist for Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre, says that more Upper Hunter businesses are reporting that their performance is improving than declining. She cautions that a smaller share are reporting improved performance compared to 12 months ago.

    “Business performance, confidence and expectations of the local economy are still positive and above 2014 lows, but there is growing uncertainty. Evidence suggests a slowing labour market, following the rapid about-turn and growth spurt that started in 2015,” she said.

    Dr Bill explained that the Centre’s Pulse surveys show that, to some degree at least, the dampening of expectations for the Hunter economy amongst households and businesses in the Upper Hunter is ‘in synch’ with the Hunter region more broadly. It also aligns with business and consumer sentiment nationwide.

    Unlike the broader region or the state, employment numbers fell from June 2018 to February 2019. There were 3,300 jobs lost (3-month moving average) in the Hunter Balance* over this period, according to the ABS Labour Force survey.

    “On the positive side, the region continues to exhibit low rates of unemployment, a strengthening construction pipeline, and a relatively robust housing market, particularly in Singleton,” she stated.

    The Upper Hunter economic breakfast also featured a presentation on global energy trends and the likely trajectory for Hunter coal exports. Tony Wood, Energy Program Director for the Grattan Institute, tackled demand for coal from Australia’s major trading partners in the context of climate change policies and the rise of renewable energy technology.

    * Hunter Balance includes Upper Hunter Region (Singleton, Muswellbrook, Upper Hunter) plus Cessnock, Maitland, Port Stephens and Dungog Local Government Areas

    DOWNLOAD breakfast presentations | DOWNLOAD Upper Hunter Region Economic Indicators

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL
  • Creative industries key to unlocking innovation

    Friday, 15 March, 2019


    Economic and cultural benefits of investing in creative industries were discussed at the Hunter Economic breakfast on 1 March.

    Our guest speaker, the Hon. David Bartlett, talked about ‘the MONA effect’. The opening of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart in 2011 boosted tourism numbers and spawned a range of other enterprises. Bartlett, Premier of Tasmania from 2008 until 2011, explained how MONA breathed new life into the State’s economy.

    Tasmania received 1.3 million visitors in the 12 months ending September 2018. Around 347,000 (27%) reported visiting MONA during their trip, up from 28,000 in 2010-11.

    Bartlett says that the MONA effect has meant more to Tasmania than just a boost in tourist numbers. The real MONA effect is to give people confidence about what they can do when they try something different.

    The City of Newcastle and Hunter region more generally were recognised as ‘hot spots’ for creative industries in the Smart Specialisation Strategy for the Hunter Region, released in 2016 by Regional Development Australia Hunter. This strategy noted that creative businesses are typically not large, but, in aggregate, the sector can be a substantial employer. It contributes value to other businesses through product design as well as creative content for marketing, product positioning and branding.

    Creative industries are already a key segment within the Hunter according to a recent report from a University of Newcastle project funded by the Australian Research Council. In 2016, creative industries contributed almost $1 billion to the Hunter’s Gross Regional Product.

    Newcastle residents attend more arts events per ticket buyer than the national average, according to TEG Analytics, and they spend less per event. Newcastle also has a substantially greater share of people who attend arts events within the LGA – 41 per cent. The arts and creative industries that benefit from such attendance have the potential to play a central role in ‘place-making’ - improvements in city vibrancy, identity and tourism.

    Tasmania’s experience with MONA is not an isolated instance, according to Andrew Hoyne, place-making and branding expert, who spoke at the breakfast. The concept of creative prosperity is being recognised by cities around the world, Hoyne said.

    Return on investment in creative industries is low, but building the creative sector is actually an investment in entrepreneurship, innovation and new ideas, Hoyne explained.People who use creative ideas to drive new economic activity have a hugely positive effect on the greater community. When creative economies are given the opportunity to flourish, you get better restaurants and bars, better night life and music scenes, and you end up with a more engaged community.

    Hoyne has seen huge investment in creative hubs, rejuvenated city areas and progressive business precincts in cities in the US. Cashed up IT companies are seeing the value, where recruitment and retention are critical issues. They want to be where smart young people are, who in turn want to be where the fun is.They prefer to be surrounded by like-minded people, entertainment and a variety of activities. On this front, creative prosperity is a core pillar.

    These ideas were digested in a workshop, immediately following the breakfast, via facilitated discussion on identity and positioning for Greater Newcastle. The workshop brought together leaders from diverse sectors, including the creative industries. Participants identified the assets of the region and how those assets could be presented to appeal to investors, prospective residents or visitors. This collaborative effort progressed development of a compelling, strategic narrative for Greater Newcastle.

    The HRF Centre will continue to facilitate such engagement with a broad range of stakeholders on questions that are critical to the region’s development. We seek to provide an evidence base of research and exemplars of global best practices to inform the decisions in government, business and the community.

    Contact the Centre to find out more about our 2019 program of engagement and research, or to express interest in participating in future events.

    This opinion piece appeared in the Newcastle Herald on 20 March 2019

    Read more DR ANTHEA BILL
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