Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How Canberra's growth continues to shift relative economic power and influence from Northern NSW to the south

In December 2016 I examined the Ernst & Young cost-benefit evaluation of the proposed move of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Authority (APVMA) from Canberra to Armidale.
Proposed Canberra High Rise
It's fair to suggest that I was not impressed with the way E&Y presented the costs of the move compared with the benefits, I thought that it was shoddy analysis in methodological terms. I also thought that it ignored the dynamic benefits of the move, something I was going to write more on.

For a variety of reasons, including time and the rapid unfolding of events I did not follow up. Now I want explore one element of what I was going to say, the implications of Canberra's continued growth. The trigger here was a 27 May 2019 piece by Katie Burgess, The areas in Canberra flagged for intense urban infill. To quote from one part of the article. 
Canberra's population increased from about 375,000 in 2012 to 402,500 people in 2016, but is expected to rise by a further 7000 people a year to 589,000 by 2041. 
Around 100,000 new homes will need to be built between 2018 and 2041 to meet that demand, the planning strategy says, equating to nearly 12 new homes a day. Canberra Times
When I moved to Canberra to work, the population was around 65,000, a bit over four times Armidale's population. Armidale plus Tamworth's population was around Canberra's total. Now in considering the population of the ACT, you have to consider the over-flow effects. When I moved to Queanbeyan to live, it's population was quite a bit smaller than Armidale, Now it's population is around 37,000, well over Atmidale and not far from Tamworth's. . 

When I moved to Canberra, inland New England had two full seats and bits of others, Canberra had one seat, Now Canberra has three seats, inland New England one and a little bit of another. Between now and 2041, and ignoring flow-on effects, Canberra is expected to add around another 187,000 people, more than the present population of inland New England. By then in the absence of change, inland New England will be down to one seat that will have to spread east and west to maintain the required numbers.     

While many factors have contributed to these trends, the single over-whelming one is the decision to establish a capital at Canberra. 

Now for all the hyper-ventilation in the Canberra Times over the APVMA move, you can see that it has negligible impact in Canberra beyond a marginal reduction in the growth pressures facing the city, a marginal reduction in the new infrastructure spend.required to  ease growth pressures. For Armidale with a population around 24,500, the move is relatively more significant, but can still be absorbed without requiring additional infrastructure.

I now want to broaden my focus a little to bring in the remainder of New England, Hunter to the border by considering the dynamic effects of Canberra's growth, .

When I moved to Canberra, the trip to Sydney along the narrow highway took over four hours. Now it's down to three hours on the expressway and will shorten. Along that highway strip, the expansion of both Sydney and Canberra is slowly crawling towards each other, creating a single conurbation. The establishment of fast rail, this seems likely, will accelerate the trend. A Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne fast rail would further consolidate the dominance of the South-East.  

I remember the first grapes being planted around the ACT. Now the growing Canberra market, the most affluent marketplace in the country, has provided a base for rapid expansion that in turn draws visitors and adds to the tourist trade. While parts of the country are experiencing some rural depopulation, Canberra people are moving out looking for new experiences. Then down on the South Coast, Canberra is driving the development of coastal tourism. 

This southern growth process is being further driven by other factors. Wagga Wagga, one of the fastest growing cities in regional NSW, is only a bit over two hours from Canberra. Albury-Wodonga is a bit over three hours from Canberra, about the same from Melbourne. Further north, the line from Sydney to the Blue Mountains to Bathurst to Orange is another growth line. Bathurst benefited from early NSW Government shifts in public administration, while both Orange and Bathurst have benefited from relative closeness to Sydney facilitating weekend traffic and the growth of food and wine. Both Orange and Bathurst are presently a bit over three hours from Canberra.

I haven't attempted to fully analyse the way all these bit fit together, but perhaps i can use an example to illustrate, The growth of Charles Sturt University has been solidly based on its expansion in the regional cities of Southern and Central NSW. 

If we now turn to New England, we find a very different picture. In the south, the growth of Newcastle has been influenced by the growth of Sydney. In discussions including discussion on "regional development" Newcastle is often seen as an out-rider, a place to absorb Sydney population pressures. The linkages that once existed between Newcastle and the broader North have diminished to the detriment of both, in part because of the southern focus. 

In the far north, the rapid population growth in the Tweed Valley and, to a degree further south, have been driven by the growth of the South East Queensland urban conurbation, creating a degree of isolation and dislocation. Along the coastal strip between the Hunter and the border, the rapid increase in population associated with sea change including retirement brought people but largely without jobs beyond service jobs. Of course there are some pluses, but now these are some of the lowest income areas with some of the highest youth unemployment in the country. Unlike the growth  high income Canberra, the growth of say Coffs Harbour has had very few broader spin-off benefits. 

I find it interesting that the biggest infrastructure issue on the North Coast, the re-development of the Pacific Highway, is focused on a road whose primary purpose is to link Sydney and Brisbane. Of course it's important because the congestion on that road from through traffic has caused deaths and great local inconvenience. You can see why locals are concerned.But it's not actually going to add any new jobs of the type the coast needs. 

Inland, the towns and cities have been struggling just to hold. Growth has increased, but the puffery associated with each town's boosters with their local focus sets towns against each other. Armidale wants the APVMA. The Mayor oft Tamworth was critical because Tamworth needs jobs and this is special pleading for Armidale. Tamworth wants a university campus, its the only city of its size in NSW that does not have an equivalent. I don't see Armidale Council rushing to support. 

Meantime, the North's relative decline continued. This will continue until the North starts focusing in a more integrated way on cross-linkages and mutual support. Take the dynamic effects of the APVMA re-location as a simple final comment.

The E&Y study compared the local expenditure benefits by comparing the whole ACT with the then Armidale Dumaresq Council area. The ACT benefits would be greater because more of the flow-on effects would be retained there as compared to to the Armidale Dumaresq LGA. Let me turn that on its head. The dynamic benefits will be greater in Armidale just because the benefits from the spend will flow onto a wider area. That includes expenditure in Tamworth and on the coast. 

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Thursday, May 09, 2019

Antony Catalano's challenge -a possible ten time profit but only if he discovers his papers ' local and regional roots

Returning to posting after a gap of almost two months. I want to focus on our media.

With the exception of a few independents, Fairfax and Newscorp ended controlling every press outlet in the broader New England. Once Newscorp came in, access  to their papers fell behind paywalls. Then Fairfax introduced a maximum of five views fro certain regional publications. 

I got totally pissed off. There were three reasons for this. 

One was that people from outside the local area  could no longer access local news about the area they had come from, while the papers had lost their idea of a broader regional role, had become totally local.  

The second was purely personal. I started as a columnist at the end of 2008, I think. That's a long time ago.

I did not get paid in cash.The only reward i got was a subscription to the paper. I wrote for my own reasons. Then with the shift to the Fairfax pay model I lost even that.  I really protested through multiple emails, but could never get a satisfactory response.. Nobody could tell me why I couldn't  have my subscription back. It was just Fairfax rules I guess. Today I was trying to check a past column but could not because I was over my five views.

The third reason? I was totally pissed off because I thought that what Fairfax was doing was simple commercial stupidity. They simply did not understand their market possibilities. This is an issue that I will come back too elsewhere. For the moment, I simply note that a Sydney based enterprise focused on metrics struggles to understand local or regional markets.  

Now that Antony Catalano has taken over Fairfax regional we may have a chance. But what a value loss.  From $3 billion to $115 million including $60 million real estate. From a very profitable business to one that, on reports, is now unprofitable. Mr Catalona  clearly has a challenge in front of him. 

I believe that this is a brilliant deal. I believe that he can make a tenfold return on his investment within ten years. But this will happen if and only if Mr Catalano can ditch the Fairfax legacy and go back to the local and regional roots of his various papers. It may be our last  chance.