Schools, hospitals, roads, transport links to Melbourne, internet connections and other essential infrastructure all require significant investment to be ready, and without it tree changers may well grow annoyed, or even change their minds and look for a return to the city. Housing is emerging as a potential crisis, with a lack of supply meaning prices in some towns are already soaring at least in part thanks to demand from fleeing Melburnians.
A new study by SGS Economics and Planning is optimistic about economic growth in the regions but calls for another 87,000 homes in the next 15 years, warning “the lack of housing for skilled, unskilled and seasonal workers is holding back the development of individual businesses across rural parts of the state”.
It has been a long-held ambition of governments to decentralise – to reduce congestion in Melbourne’s CBD and spread the benefits of jobs and growth into what the Bracks-Brumby government called “provincial Victoria”. Now that COVID-19 appears to have been achieving the goal, it’s time for the current state government to do some work: assess if that’s still a policy worth aiming for; study what’s required to make it happen, including a robust cost-benefit and economic analysis; then put forward an explicit regionalisation policy to ensure funding and infrastructure keep pace, making it sustainable.
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