The sandstone mega-region

Uniting Newcastle-the Central Coast-Sydney-Wolongong
Infrastructure Public transport Trains Cities and towns Regional planning New South Wales
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This report is the culmination of a year of research and investigation into the potential impact of closer relationships between the cities of Newcastle, the Central Coast and Wollongong, and the three cities of Greater Sydney. Spurred by the evidence that mega-regions around the globe are delivering economic and social outcomes for their collective communities, the Committee embarked on a program of hearing from international experts and collating evidence on the existing and potential relationships between our six cities.

This is a critical area for consideration as all growing cities like Sydney extend beyond their formal boundaries. Leading global cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong couldn’t function properly, or succeed to the extent that they do, were it not for close links with their neighbouring cities and centres. Our planners, urban thinkers, governments and citizens need to lift their eyes above the horizon and to consider the towns and cities that border our metropolis. Ultimately, we need to ask whether our emerging metropolis of three cities can be even more successful if it is reconceptualised as a mega-region of six cities.

Currently, there is little integration between the six cities, with most people living and working within their respective city. This finding is particularly strong outside Greater Sydney, where there is a high level of containment and the vast majority of people seek employment locally. These findings reflect the fact that there is limited connectivity within and between the regional cities and Greater Sydney. Using existing private and public transport routes, neither Wollongong nor Central Coast commuters can access significant parts of Sydney within an hour, and Newcastle remains relatively isolated.

To improve integration between the six cities and create a successful mega-region, evidence suggests that a network of one-hour or less heavy rail connections between cities is needed, along with a coherent economic strategy that promotes complementary roles for each of the centres. With these in place, mega-regions can benefit from common housing and labour markets. Chiefly, integration enables greater housing choice and accessibility to jobs, as well as agglomeration economies in which people and firms cluster together.

Using ‘off the shelf’ fast rail technology, there are great opportunities to improve connectivity between the six cities of the mega-region, as well as orientate Sydney towards its geographical centre of Parramatta. Even a moderately fast rail network that reaches speeds of 200 km/h could connect Newcastle, the Central Coast and Wollongong with Sydney in 60 minutes or less. Along with broader city-shaping benefits, economic modelling indicates that such a scenario would improve housing affordability, accessibility to jobs, and regional employment throughout the mega-region.

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