It's time to get serious about Ballarat's growth

Ballarat has benefited from the focus of governments on regional development in the past decade. There has been a mixture of talking and project action, which recognises our region’s potential for growth. But is the government underestimating the opportunity for real growth in the regions? Population projections tell different stories. Victoria’s current population is 5.5 million; official figures project a population of 10.1 million in the year 2051. Eight million of those people are expected to be in Melbourne. That leaves only 2.1 million in the state’s regions, and Committee for Ballarat thinks that’s not putting your money where your mouth is.

Governments need to get serious about regional growth, and we have a critical role to play. Our future should be determined by those who live here and understand the opportunities, based on their lived experience and real data. We understand best what our capacity is, what our needs are. We need to work with other communities and advocate for boosting our growth rates with a united regional voice.

Plan Melbourne acknowledges the need to rebalance growth into regional Victoria, but current policies will do little more than maintain a status quo proportionality. The official projection of 150,000 people is out of kilter when there is recognition that 200,000 people is a proper target for us. Ballarat is projected to grow by 42,000 in the next 12 years to about 150,000 (about 3500 a year), whereas Melton and Wyndham continue to be among the largest and fastest growth areas. Why? Because it’s easier to continue the dominance of Melbourne-based growth that follows the same old patterns? Not only is this problematic for housing and liveability, it means there will be greater overcrowding on our trains and our service will get worse rather than better. So, are we acting quickly enough on the infrastructure we desperately need? And are we supporting the development of housing that will attract diverse groups and cater for different needs? Committee believes we are not focused broadly enough on who is driving demand.

Single-person households are projected to increase (25 per cent to 28 per cent) and families with children to decrease (43 per cent to 40 per cent). That makes it quite obvious that while suburban development will remain popular for families, there must be more choice for one- and two-person households, which will comprise the majority of households (56 per cent). And what of other opportunities? The older demographic of our communities is fortunate to be living longer and enjoying active retirement, including useful part-time work. Technology is redefining services through artificial intelligence, so we must think about design and housing implications within those contexts.

There will be no easing of Melbourne’s congestion, unless on-demand driverless shuttles can miraculously redefine transport. We don’t even understand the potential or consequences of these yet, but architects in some countries are already excluding garages from their designs. If we think these propositions are too far-fetched, we will never be seen as a progressive and welcoming region. Let’s be the first to have driverless shuttle buses, the first to train technicians for our new energy future, to be powered by 100 per cent locally generated energy, and the first to capture the enormous scope for redefining housing choices with excellence in design by locals. Planning for our growth needs a basis in facts and a clear understanding of what should be ahead to avoid replicating Melbourne’s problems. As locals, we understand this best. 

Janet Dore is chair of Committee for Ballarat.