Dr Crommelin says policymakers should consider how population growth can help regional Australia, Image: Canva.
  • With housing shortages in metropolitan areas, more urban dwellers are looking to regional areas
  • Rapid growth is having a detrimental effect in some regional areas
  • Policymakers are urged to turn regional migration into an advantage

As the cost of living continues to rise, a growing contingent of urban dwellers are contemplating leaving the city in search of a more affordable regional lifestyle.

However, Senior Lecturer in City Planning at the School of Built Environment, UNSW Arts, Design and Architecture Dr Laura Crommelin says it’s an unrealistic proposition to rely on smaller regional cities to alleviate the housing problems of major metropolitan areas.

Crommelin says that despite the vagaries of the housing market, major cities still continue to offer a broader range of employment opportunities.

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

“In any case, we’re seeing that rapid growth without proper planning can replicate some of the problems we face in urban areas in regional areas, such as housing affordability.

“So we risk losing features of regional life that are often what attract people to move in the first place.”

Increasing housing demand in the regions

Some coastal regions have experienced a significant surge in migration, triggered by the pandemic and the ubiquity of remote work.

Crommelin says some who are priced out of the city housing markets may be able to afford a more spacious, standalone dwelling in a regional area.

“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,” she said.

Decreasing housing affordability in the regions

With demand for affordable rental properties reaching new heights in some regions, shortages can drive up asking prices and threaten to push residents into rental stress – or even out of their towns.

This, combined with short-term letting platforms like Airbnb, may also take housing supply out of the market.

“Housing affordability is a significant issue now in regional areas that are growing quickly,” Crommelin said.

“If people moving out from the big cities can come in with higher paying salaries and push prices up, it can create resentment.”

Moreover, an Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) study led by Crommelin found regional residents are also concerned about growth diminishing the lifestyle appeal of their cities while stretching essential services further.

“There is a concern that rapid growth outpaces investment and places more pressure on existing services – particularly health and education,” she said.

“It’s something policymakers need to anticipate and get ahead of so that infrastructure development can support growth, not just follow it.”

Turning regional growth into an advantage

Crommelin urges policymakers to consider how population growth can be a boon to regional Australia.

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

She added a primary focus should be on improving regional labour markets to attract and retain more population, particularly in fields where worker shortages exist.

“This would not only include reading more high-quality employment opportunities but better supporting long-term career paths in non-metropolitan areas.”

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