In my last post, Re-imagining Newcastle - and the North, I concluded by saying that in my next post I would:
risk my hand by painting a vision of Newcastle's future. It is a risk because I do not live there, do not pretend to be an expert on on-ground conditions.
In doing something like this, it's generally a good idea to begin by laying down some general principles. The point about principles is that they help generate new ideas while providing a base against which proposed actions can be judged. They also make it easier for people to understand just what is proposed. If you go straight to actions, then you risk ending up with the type of mess you so often see in NSW.
I propose the following principles:
- Proposed actions should enhance Newcastle's life style. To my mind, life style is one of the best things Newcastle has going for it. We want to build on that. We have already seen the power of life style in the way that Melbourne has reinvented itself as compared to Sydney.
- We don't want to add people just for the sake of adding people. There is something highly mechanistic about current NSW planning approaches. The projections say this, we will do that. What Newcastle really needs are more higher level jobs. Otherwise, and as we have seen on the North Coast, population growth can actually lower an area's relative economic standing.
- Newcastle's growth should not come at the expense of surrounding areas. To illustrate with a local example, promotion of Newcastle should not preclude promotion of Maitland or, more broadly, an Armidale or a Grafton. One problem with the promotion of Sydney as in brand Sydney has been the way in which it sucks oxygen from other places.
- Following from 3, Newcastle's development should add to development elsewhere. Very specifically, it should improve the economic integration of New England as a whole.
Given these principles, I suggest the following policy initiatives and for the following reasons:
- Further development of Williamtown as a major domestic and international airport. I recognise that there are issues here such as inconvenience to those under the flight path, as well as funding questions. However, if Newcastle is to develop as a centre in its own right and not just become a Sydney dormitory, then it needs to be able to bring people direct to the city, for people to be able to go direct from the city. This will also benefit areas further north. Such development need not preclude development elsewhere such as expansion of Coffs Harbour airport.
- Promotion of Newcastle as a direct travel destination and as an entry point to Northern NSW, the broader New England. Again, this need not preclude other places adopting somewhat similar strategies. The aim should be to increase the total number of visitors in New England.
- A cultural development strategy intended to build and promote both overall cultural activities and Newcastle's special features. I am of the view that far too few people actually know that Newcastle has its own cultural tradition. I, for one, did not know the scale of this until I started writing on it. Even now, I have only scratched the surface. This type of promotion not only brings visitors, but adds to local lifestyle.
- Further development of specialist services servicing a broader Northern market and also the Central Coast. Again, this need not preclude developments further North if the aim is fair sharing. Examples include:
- Development of Newcastle as a sporting centre. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Jets are promoted just as a Newcastle team when we have a Northern NSW Soccer League. Yes, I understand that there are myopias on both sides, but the broader New England really should be seen as a feeder area.
- Further development of specialist medical services in Newcastle. This is already happening to some degree. One present limitation is transport. For many, it is easier to get to Sydney even if Newcastle is closer.
- Better integration between New England's universities to allow for more resource sharing and relative specialisations. A classic example here is the joint NU/UNE rural medical school. This benefits both NU and UNE, but also benefits New England. The simple analysis I have done suggests that there is considerable scope for further cooperation to the benefit of all.
- Better integration in transport planning. I do not pretend to understand all the issues associated with transport inside Newcastle. However, as a general comment, transport planning appears to focus at the moment on either locality or locality to Sydney. There appears to be very little focus on transport to and from Newcastle. Yet if Newcastle is to develop in the way I am talking about, people in the Hunter and broader New England have to be able to get to and from Newcastle more easily.
This post has, I suspect, barely touched the surface as to what might be possible in the longer term if only we can look at things in new ways.
I emphasise longer term. Change just takes time and has usually to be done in small chunks.
In this context, I think that Greg is right in his comment on an earlier post that some things can't happen without self-government for the North. There are just too many conflicts, too many compromises, built into the existing system to allow for proper recognition of the needs of any particular area. That said, I also think that I am right when I wrote:
Re-imagining the North is hard. But in doing so, we achieve a number of things. We get New Englanders to again think of themselves as a unit. We force Sydney responses. And we start to lay down a platform - a set of ideas - that our own Government can implement.
What do you think?