18 June 2024

Urban exodus prompts regional councils to demand a larger slice of the NSW budget pie

| Chris Roe
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Regional advocacy groups say that urgent investment in regional infrastructure is essential.

Regional advocacy groups say that urgent investment in regional infrastructure is essential. Photo: File.

Advocacy group Regional Cities New South Wales (RCNSW) is calling for more housing and infrastructure investment in Tuesday’s (18 June) NSW State Budget with new data showing a population shift away from the big smoke.

The latest Regional Movers Index, released this month by the Regional Australia Institute, showed that two-thirds of Australia’s regional migration so far in 2024 has come from Sydney.

“Our cities are clearly the place that people want to be so we want to make sure that our cities have the right level of housing to meet this demand,” said RCNSW Chair and Dubbo Mayor Mathew Dickerson.

“We know that housing pressures are a national issue but with the majority of regional migration occurring in NSW, our regional cities deserve to have their fair share of funding to make sure our communities are able to deal with this growing challenge.”

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RCNSW is an alliance of 15 regional cities from across the state that aims to foster growth and lifestyle outcomes through increased investment.

The pre-budget submission to the State Government cites numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that between 2011 and 2023, regional NSW’s population grew by 253,400.

“This growth is the equivalent to creating a new regional city the size of Bathurst every two years,” the submission states.

“There can be no doubt that regional city living is on the agenda for many Australians that was first initiated by the pandemic wave of late 2019 and then sustained by the ability to work from anywhere.”

Regional Australia Institute’s Liz Ritchie agreed with the Regional Movers Index showing that 24 per cent more people are moving from the city to regions, than the other direction.

“People are voting with their feet and making a very conscious decision to live in regional Australia,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Whilst the pandemic supercharged this movement, the regional lifestyle is continuing to prove highly desirable for thousands of people, especially those from cities.

“This movement in population can no longer be seen as a quirky flow-on effect from the lockdown years. A societal shift is underway.”

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Cr Dickerson acknowledged the announcement last month of $137.19 million from the NSW Government’s Accelerated Infrastructure Fund to fast-track a total of nine infrastructure projects in five high-growth regional NSW communities with co-contributions from the councils of $64.7 million.

Wagga Wagga attracted the largest share of the funding with more than $70 million directed towards two local infrastructure projects that would service a potential 14,000 new homes.

With high demand and limited availability causing regional house prices and rents to soar, Cr Dickerson said the need for even more investment was a matter of urgency.

“Regional Housing is an issue which simply cannot wait; it needs to be addressed now, starting with a significant funding injection in this budget,” he said.

“In addition, RCNSW is committed to working in partnership with the State Government to identify and activate unused land in our cities while also supporting development which meets community needs such as the development of specific rental accommodation.”

The RCNSW delivered its pre-budget submission to the State Government this week including a string of key recommendations including affordable and social housing, skilled labour shortages, regional migration, roads and water security.

NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey will hand down the state budget on Tuesday, June 18.

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