Decentralisation doesn’t alleviate metropolitan growth: study

A new research paper argues decentralization in Australia doesn’t relieve growth in Sydney and Melbourne, and future attempts will not work unless governments invest in basic infrastructure such as communications services, roads and health and education facilities.

Written for the Henry Halloran Trust at the University of Sydney, Decentralisation: could it help our fast growing cities? uses case studies of the City of Wagga Wagga (NSW) and City of Greater Bendigo (VIC), and their experiences trying to attract jobs and residents from larger cities.

“We have no simple means of finding out how many new jobs have been created in these cities as a result of a decentralization project,” wrote author James Colman.

“Quantifying the demographic benefits of such projects seems to remain a statistical impossibility.”

Mr Colman was a planning consultant to several councils in the bush in the past decade and wanted to determine if they’d benefitted from State Government decentralisation programs, either in dollar terms or population growth.

“I was also keen to pursue the corollary: have any of our capital cities seen a population slow-down as a result of a decentralisation program,” he said.

“My hope is that my paper might act as a wake-up call to governments at every level.

“If you want to help the bush, forget about the decentralisation concept: it is a myth – has never worked as a means of slowing metropolitan growth and has rarely if ever brought real tangible benefits to rural and regional communities.

“What country towns really need is help with basic infrastructure designed to support their existing populations as well as attract new, younger folk, as well as retirees.”

He lists infrastructure including health facilities, education facilities including libraries, and access to a major transport hub.

“Relying on the private sector for these initiatives will probably be fruitless,” Mr Colman said.

“What is wanted is for government to lead with public sector investments which in turn will pull private sector dollars and jobs attracted by the much-needed ‘soft infrastructure’.”

Mr Colman is an architect, planning consultant, university lecturer and author whose publications include The House That Jack Built – Jack Mundey, Green Bans Hero.