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Urban Regional Development

Urban Regional Development

Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.
Briefing Paper No. 12/2003 by Stewart Smith
This Briefing Paper discusses contemporary regional policy in relation to urban regions around the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area. It is evident that the NSW Government has focussed its urban regional policies on Western Sydney, the Illawarra, the Hunter and to an extent the Central Coast. Within these regional areas, over three million people reside. The importance of regions to the efficient functioning of the national economy is now understood.

The term regionalism describes the process where regional communities have greater influence over and participate more directly in the decision making that impacts on their region and their futures. Regionalisation is the process of government or industry creating administrative regions for more efficient program management, with powers devolved to a greater or lesser extent, from central administration to regional managers. Many regional development activities have their origins in regionalisation, but are essentially characterised by a close connection to regionalism.

The potential for NSW Government services to be regionalised was explored under the Wran Government in the early 1980s, but proposals did not proceed. Today, many of the arguments that led to the call for regionalisation in the 1980s are still voiced.

In terms of regional development per se, it is apparent that there is confusion over the roles of the different levels of government, and of what regional development entails. The history of government involvement in regional planning and development has tended to be one of a series of fits and starts with none actually realising anywhere near its full potential. The jury is still out on regionalism and the effectiveness of sustainable regional development initiatives and their associated regional organisations.

A review of the seminal literature on regional development, and key lessons about how regions work and how governments can intervene, is presented.

The level of involvement of the Commonwealth Government in regional policy has varied over the years, and the debate about the respective roles of Commonwealth and State Government in regional policy has been waged vigorously over the last five decades.

In NSW the Department of State and Regional Development is the lead agency in the promotion of both regional and metropolitan development. The Department sponsors and provides financial support to 13 Regional Development Boards. The Boards are designed to provide a strategic framework for economic growth and the development of local leadership. However, the most appropriate method of coordinating regional development in NSW is an issue of considerable debate.

The development of four urban regions: the Hunter; Central Coast; Western Sydney; and the Illawarra is then discussed. The regional development strategies used for each of these areas are compared, and it is concluded that solutions and funding allocated from centralised bureaucracies without community involvement will not produce long term sustainable regions.