Monday, 26 March, 2018

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Newcastle is undergoing urban renewal and growth. Additionally, a draft Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan was released by the NSW Government at the end of last year. The question now is, what role should the Australian federal government play in the city’s revitalisation in terms of policies, expenditures, and providing statistics?

These questions are being considered by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities, who held a public hearing in Newcastle on 2 March. The hearing forms part of the Committee’s Inquiry into the Australian Government's role in the development of cities.

The hearing was hosted by the HRF Centre as part of its engaged research agenda. Opening testimony, on the role of the University in Newcastle’s urban revitalisation, was provided by Professor Caroline McMillen, the University’s Vice-Chancellor.

Professor McMillen talked about the University’s role in supporting social and economic transition in the Hunter region. The economy in the region can be seen to be on a trajectory where traditional industries, based on resources, mining and manufacturing are increasingly be being joined by companies that are making the Hunter part of a globally positioned, knowledge-based economy.

Professor McMillen drew on the work of a number of global commentators, including the 2016 KPMG report Magnet cities, which talked about 'sticky' cities.

“Cities in the past were based on trade, then in the Industrial Revolution on building industry, and more recently on people and their ability to retain talent—to be 'sticky' for that talent. They do this by having: a very vibrant city, renewing their physical structure but maintaining their DNA; a definable city identity; very good connections to other cities; strong civic, academic and business leadership; and the ability to attract young wealth-creators.

“This is a key piece of work for a university in the heartland, whose graduates can go to CBDs not only down the road but also across the world. Retaining talent is critical if this city and its region are to undergo the full renewal.”

Cities and regions are intimately connected and should be treated as systems, Professor Will Rifkin, HRF Centre Director, told the Committee members.

“Policy implications for Commonwealth government would be addressing the city and the region together,” he said. “In terms of funding, I like the idea of the City Deals and similar incentives where you are trying to get a city and region to collaborate to figure out what they really want and what they really need."

The inquiry also heard testimony from Dr Anthea Bill, HRF Centre’s lead economist, on facets of the Hunter’s economic transition. She outlined some of the region’s assets.

“They include our mining and industrial heritage; our research strengths, which the vice-chancellor has just outlined; some trade linkages via our port, which is the largest coal-export port in the world; and rail infrastructure. We have a service sector that has evolved very strongly over the last few decades.

“We are very proud of our diversification as a result of the closure of the steelworks in the late 1990s, which is seen as a successful transition within the region, and also the development in Honeysuckle that came out of that site. We have a strong history and tradition in Newcastle.”

Dr Bill added that Newcastle now has a suite of new investments.

“There is city centre renewal; a new cruise terminal coming in; and the university expansion into the CBD, a $95 million investment in this landmark building. There is the Joint Strike Fighter squadron, the F35s, coming in and the maintenance contracts for that across the Asia-Pacific. We have a new light rail coming in, and we have an airport upgrade and the potential for new domestic and even international routes in the Asia-Pacific.”

Dr Bill noted a slowing in regional growth rates revealed by the most recent ABS Census data and whether these elements are ‘the right ingredients’ to drive Newcastle forward to be a globally competitive, knowledge-based, world-class city.

“That is a question we would like to put some more research resources toward in the HRF Centre.”

Committee Chair, Mr John Alexander OAM MP, said that the hearing allowed members to hear from community groups, academics and business leaders on how best to ensure that the Hunter’s growth boosts its productivity and delivers liveability benefits.

“Regions such as the Hunter Valley and cities such as Newcastle have the capacity to accommodate many more people and businesses, easing the squeeze on capital cities,” Mr Alexander said. “We need to heed the aspirations of these communities and ensure that we set them up with the governance arrangements, infrastructure and resources that they need to succeed.”

Other organisations testifying to the Committee’s inquiry included the City of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie City Council, Maitland City Council, the University’s Centre for Urban and Regional Studies, Hunter Water, Hunter Development Corporation, Newcastle Airport, Hunter Business Chamber, Compass Housing Services and Lake Macquarie’s economic development company, Dantia.

Find out more about the inquiry.

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