$200m housing hand-out
THREE fast-growing Northern Rivers centres are in the running for $15 million in infrastructure funding to assist in their population growth if Labor wins the Federal election.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised $200 million for affordable regional housing over three years as part of her ‘moving Australia forward’ strategy.
Lismore, Ballina and Tweed Heads are among the 46 regional centres eligible to apply for a share in the funding. The trio are part of a region with the fastest population growth in Australia outside of the capital cities.
The NSW Department of Planning expects the Northern Rivers’ population will grow by about 3000 a year over the next decade, with Tweed, Ballina and Byron Bay seeing the fastest growth.
According to the NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, the Northern Rivers’ population rose by 17 per cent in the 10 years until 2002.
Ballina experienced population growth of seven per cent a year between 1996 and 2001, with its population expected to grow from the current 40,000 to more than 88,500 by 2021 – making it the growth centre of the region.
Lismore’s situation is much the same, with its population expected to rise by 21.4pc in the next 15 years to 53,680.
Centres eligible for funding must have populations of above 30,000.
“I am looking forward to seeing how the Federal Government can work with local government to deliver this initiative,” Lismore City mayor Jenny Dowell said.
“Any financial assistance in developing affordable housing will help us attract and retain young families so we can see them work here, too.”
Ballina Shire Council mayor Phillip Silver said it was ‘absolutely’ something his council would be interested in.
“From what I have read of it, it is precisely what we are looking for, the infrastructure part of it anyway. It would interest us greatly,” he said.
Under the proposed housing boost, the Federal Government will hand chosen regional councils an estimated $15 million to develop affordable housing and associated infrastructure, such as connecting roads, drainage works and community facilities. It is estimated only 15 of the 46 eligible councils will win a share in the funding.
However, with competition for a piece of the Federal funding pie between councils expected to be fierce, Cr Dowell is not over-confident.
“It is too early to tell as there will be 46 local government areas in the country vying for it,” she said.
Lismore City Council recently released land for residential development within its area in an attempt to accommodate the rising population.
“Releasing land is not something that happens overnight. It needs a lot of thought and planning,” Cr Dowell said.
The Federal Government seems to be taking a different approach on implementing its housing plan by distributing funds to local councils, rather than through State governments, as with its Building the Education Revolution program.
Despite the election promise to ensure a sustainable Northern Rivers, Nationals candidate for the Federal seat of Page Kevin Hogan believes more cities should be eligible for the funding.
“I am glad to see they are not doing it through State governments, like they did with the school building scheme,” he said.
“But I would like them to be a little more flexible too.”