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Sunshine Coast - the right city at the right time in history


8 May 2019 | Source: Sunshine Coast Daily

The Sunshine Coast (including Noosa) isn't like most Australian cities. It is a fusion, an invention, a coalition of at times disparate (I won't say warring) tribes, that have coalesced to form a single urban mass estimated in the middle of last year to contain 334,000 residents, the ninth-largest on the Australian continent.

There is only one other Australian city even remotely like the Sunny Coast and we do not dare speaketh its name in this paper for Sunny Coasters are quite determined to be different to that other, darker, place.

Every city has challenges and the Sunshine Coast has challenges aplenty. It didn't have a dominant CBD until Sun Central was carved out of the Maroochydore commercial heart three years ago. And it very much remains a work in progress.

It didn't have a university until the University of the Sunshine Coast was established around the turn of the century. It too is a work in progress with plans to expand into Brisbane's northern suburbs at Petrie.

It didn't really have an international airport-oh come on, Auckland doesn't count-until its most recent expansion. I expect within a decade for there to be direct flights to perhaps 5-6 cities in China and maybe India straight into the Sunshine Coast International airport depositing tourists, students and assorted business people into the local community.

Maybe some incoming flights could be backfilled with provenance-warrantied agribusiness product from as far away as Gympie? Did you know the places generating most job growth in Brisbane and Perth between the last two censuses wasn't each city's respective CBDs, it was the airport precinct?

Did I mention warring tribes? Noosa stubbornly insists upon sitting apart from the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, but I think we all know that eventually there will be a joyous reunification as the good burghers of the Noosa Hill suddenly realise that they need to join their Buderim and Kings Beach brethren to project a single and more powerful voice to those who live beyond the realm of the Sunshine Coast.

I have a specific reason why I think the Sunshine Coast is the right city at the right time in history. It is a demographic reason. Population projections released by the Queensland state government last November, based on the 2016 Census, and updating previous projections made in 2015, tell a compelling story. The outlook for Queensland in 2036 has been marked down by 1 per cent or 76,000 to 6.7 million. This in itself isn't significant; what is significant is how the William Street demographic boffins reshuffled the state's outlook.

Gladstone's 2036 outlook was wound back by 33,000 or 31 per cent; Mackay lost 23,000 or 13 per cent and Townsville lost 26,000 or 9 per cent. The undisputed winner-if faster growth is the measure of winning-in this official outlook for Queensland municipalities is the Sunshine Coast (RC) up 25,000 or 6 per cent on the previous figures for 2036.

So, Minister, the South East Queensland Regional Plan released in 2016 made provision for housing, jobs and infrastructure based on a 2036 outlook for a Sunshine Coast (RC) population of 453,000, but which has now been lifted to 478,000.

Minister, we need more schools, more roads funding, more university places, more hospital beds.

Minister, these are your figures not ours.

Other 'winners' in this most recent of outlooks are the City of Brisbane up 41,000 or 3 per cent and Moreton Bay RC up 22,000 or 4 per cent. Even the 2036 outlook for capped Noosa has been upped from 62,000 to 63,000, presumably on the basis of a marginal lift in densities.

What the Sunny Coast needs is a vision of how this city-inclusive of Noosa and the broader hinterland-might operate by 2030 in a practical sense, and by 2050 in an aspirational sense.

The Sunshine Coast has a track record of getting things done-the university, the CBD, the health precinct, the airport-but there is more to do. No city the size of the Sunshine Coast on the Australian continent-specifically Geelong, Wollongong, Newcastle and even that unspoken place south of Brisbane-does not have a hard rail link to the state capital.

The Sunny Coast needs a hard rail link to Brisbane promised and delivered during the 2020s.

By 2050 I want to see the Sunshine Coast, by then a humming urban coagulation of close to 600,000, operating like a well-oiled cog connected into but not dependent upon Brisbane.

Future strategic plans must reflect the reality that the remoter bits of South East Queensland should be capable of operating independently of Brisbane. Without this vision the good ship Sunny Coast and all who sail in her are condemned to forever chase and fund infrastructure to somehow get Coast workers to city jobs.

It's far easier and cheaper, Minister, to take city jobs to Coast workers.

I want the next generation of Sunny Coasters to know deep down that their kids will have the realistic opportunity of living, working, going to university, going to global destinations, without having to trek down the Bruce Highway.

What I want for the Sunshine Coast isn't just modern-day city functionality-as important as that is including a hard rail link to Brisbane-I want sovereignty for the half a million or so people who live on the Sunshine Coast so that they are no longer dependent upon jobs or people emanating from Brisbane.

Bernard Salt is managing director of The Demographics Group.