THE state government should appoint a “minister for the west” to ensure Melbourne’s fastest-growing region meets its need for services and infrastructure, says a key lobby group.
A staggering 330,000 people — the equivalent of three Ballarats — will be added to the west’s population within 15 years as families flock to cheaper housing on the city’s outskirts. The City of Wyndham, which includes Point Cook and is one of the nation’s population hotspots, is absorbing 230 new residents every week, including 87 babies born.
There will be an extra 27,000 school students over the next decade, and by 2031 Wyndham’s total population is tipped to reach more than 361,000, much bigger than the Sunshine Coast today.
This explosion in growth will trigger huge demand for new schools, childcare centres, hospitals, doctors, shopping centres and transport upgrades.
Craig Rowley, CEO of western suburbs advocacy group LeadWest, said a serious problem was population growth outstripping the rate of new jobs. “The infrastructure issue isn’t just about moving people to where the jobs are on the other side of town, the issue is creating the stimulus for businesses to set up shop here,” he said.
LeadWest lobbies for a vast area that includes Wyndham, Melton, Maribyrnong, Brimbank, Hobsons Bay and Moonee Valley. It houses 866,185 people, provides 201,100 jobs and boasts a gross regional product of almost $32 billion. Manufacturing provides more than 31,000 jobs, followed by retail trade with 27,000, healthcare and social assistance (21,700) and education and training (19,570).
Mr Rowley said the west was struggling to catch up with 100 years of differential development in the two sides of Melbourne.
“In a nation where housing affordability has become problematic, it’s been a bonus that Melbourne had this situation that all this land in the west and so close to the CBD was relatively underdeveloped,” he said.
Mr Rowley said it was time for the government to appoint a minister for Melbourne’s west and north, just as Sydney had a minister for western Sydney. “A minister for the northwest would be really helpful to catalyse that focus,” he said.
“We’re building the new Melbourne here, and we’ve got in that 10-15-year horizon a city the size of Adelaide being plonked right up next to Melbourne.
“That’s a big deal, it should have its own ministry.”
In a recent submission to the state Coalition’s population discussion paper, Wyndham Council called for an integrated transport plan that would include significant expansion of public transport and provision for better walking and cycling infrastructure.
It said that investment in transport corridors gave the opportunity to leverage the $4 billion investment already made in the Regional Rail Project.
“This transport infrastructure can support affordable living options and housing diversity opportunities with excellent access to job rich locations,” the submission said.
The already announced West Gate Tunnel Project, an alternative river crossing to the West Gate Bridge, will improve links with the western suburbs.
And Infrastructure Victoria buoyed the region when it recently recommended that Melbourne’s second container port be located between Werribee and Point Wilson.
This sparked a call for the government to fast-track the proposed Western Interstate Freight Terminal as supporting infrastructure for the port.
John Marinopoulos, partner with business consultants PwC, said that widening of the Princes Freeway should also be considered in conjunction with turning Avalon Airport into a major domestic passenger and freight hub.
“Businesses could use the land around the airport and export goods and services to China,” he said.
“At the moment we’ve got a privately-run airport and barriers in-between.”
Mr Rowley said that given the failure of the commuter ferry trial between Docklands and Wyndham Harbour by businessman Paul Little, the government should consider leading a new push for a service.
He said that issues like better amenities at Wyndham Harbour and permission for higher ferry speeds on the Yarra River were crucial for the concept’s success.
Families are heading west
JOHN Naidu’s story has a familiar narrative for Melbourne’s booming west.
He wanted to set up his young family for the future and an affordable housing solution that suited his lifestyle aspirations.
So he moved from the Sunshine of the inner west to the outer west, 29km from the CBD, to a fast-growing estate, Woodlea.
Prioritising the education of his three-year-old daughter Kaitlan, Mr Naidu and wife, Pritika, said moving into the new area had set them up for life.
“We are a new, young family, so when we moved to Melbourne we wanted a country atmosphere away from the busy city life,” he said.
“We get a taste of the country without being too far from the community. We’re close to Highpoint shopping centre, the airport where I work, and the beautiful Macedon Ranges.”
With the couple both studying part-time at Victoria University, Mr Naidu said locality to public transport and road infrastructure suited their busy lifestyle.
“It takes me 15 minutes to get to university, and my wife is doing her placement at Sunshine hospital which is also a short drive,” he said.
“Looking ahead, I want a good education for my daughter. She will be going to Bacchus Marsh Primary School, which will be a five-minute walk from our home.”
A hotspot for young families, the Rockbank residential estate was crowned the fastest selling residential community in Australia in March this year.
Ms Pillay, who is expecting her second child in August, indicated proximity to shopping and town centres, child-friendly parks and primary schools were key.
“Being close to everything is important when you’re pregnant and tired,” she said.
“There are playgrounds and a cafe close by, and knowing there is 24-hour surveillance makes me feel at ease knowing children can play outside without as many safety concerns.”
Woodlea project director Matthew Dean said the area was helping make a positive impact with a quality but affordable housing solution in Melbourne’s west.
“We are raising the bar and giving families a place where they can afford to build a new family home,” Mr Dean said.
“We’re offering access to transport, quality education, state-of-the-art sporting facilities and local job opportunities. These types of facilities are usually delivered five or 10 years down the track, but we’ve begun delivering from day one and that is just the beginning.”
Upon completion in the next 12-15 years, the $2 billion community will be home to 20,000 residents and 7000 homes.
Published in The Herald Sun