Regional markets need long-term planning for them to be able to accommodate more people escaping the major cities as cost-of-living pressures mount.

UNSW Sydney senior lecturer Dr Laura Crommelin said while many regional areas have the potential to accommodate more people, it would be unrealistic to rely on them to solve the housing problems of major metropolitan areas.

“Our major cities continue to offer a broader range of employment opportunities, which means they will continue to attract new residents.

“So, it’s unlikely smaller regional areas can substantially ease pressures for major cities, at least in the short-term.”

Dr Crommelin believes that if regional markets witness rapid growth without proper planning, they could face similar problems currently seen in urban areas, particularly in terms of housing affordability.  

“Housing affordability is a significant issue now in regional areas that are growing quickly — if people moving out from the big cities can come in with higher paying salaries and push prices up, it can create resentment.”

For Dr Crommelin, some regional areas are already struggling to deal with increased migration from the pandemic and the rise of remote work. This is particularly true in some coastal regions, which have experienced a significant influx of sea-changers in recent years motivated by cheaper, more spacious housing on offer by the beach.

“Some who are priced out of the city housing markets may be able to afford a more spacious, standalone dwelling in a regional area,” she said.

“Those regional areas within striking distance of the city are increasingly popular with those who still might commute once or twice a week to the city for work but spend most of their time living by the coast.”

What policies regional markets need

Dr Crommelin said policymakers must consider how population growth can help regional markets, focussing on improving labour markets to attract and retain more population.

“Proactive, strategic planning informed by local knowledge can ensure population growth benefits regional cities and their residents first through improved local services, infrastructure and amenity,” she said.

By focusing on labour markets, regional markets can create more high-quality employment opportunities and support long-term career paths.

“Reduced employment and career development options are considered a downside of relocating — there’s certainly a role for regional universities and campuses to help create local graduates, but how best to help them build a fulfilling career in non-metropolitan Australia is something we’re interested in looking into further,” Dr Crommelin said.

Housing diversity must also be included in long-term management strategies — for instance, building medium and lower-density housing stock will be able to cater the demand from families.

“Most importantly, growth needs careful management to ensure if regional Australia areas scale up, they maintain the overarching sense of community that make these areas appealing in the first place,” Dr Crommelin said.


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