WODONGA mayor Mark Byatt has led the call for Victoria’s 10 biggest regional cities to have $4.4 billion spent on infrastructure and key services over the next 20 years to keep pace with surging growth and to relieve pressure on Melbourne.
The population of the 10 regional municipalities could jump by as much as 288,000 by 2031, according to a new report that examines what further transport, health, education and other infrastructure and services they will need over the next two decades.
Under this “high growth” scenario, they would house more than a million people by 2031 but would require $4.4 billion of investment, the report finds.
Even under a low growth scenario in which they accommodated about 25 per cent of the entire state’s growth, the 10 regional cities would add an estimated 208,000 people by 2031 and be home to about 950,000 people. Growth of this order would require investment of $3.4 billion, the report says.
To be released today, it was commissioned by the group Regional Cities Victoria, an alliance that represents Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Horsham, Latrobe, Mildura, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga.
Prepared by economic consultancy Essential Economics, the research found that Victoria’s regional cities have plenty of room to grow.
Land suitable for residential development would accommodate almost 179,000 lots, which could house more than 425,000 people. Almost half of this land is already zoned residential.
But while land, including for industrial development, is plentiful, the cities would require massive investment in aged care, health and education to properly cater for the extra residents.
Reflecting an ageing population, the biggest investment needed — more than $1.2 billion — would be required for aged-care infrastructure.
The 10 regional cities now have about 8000 aged-care places but would need more than twice as many by 2031.
Increased acute health needs would also be costly, with the report estimating that almost $1.1 billion would need to be spent on hospital infrastructure.
Cr Byatt, the Regional Cities Victoria chairman, said the cities could make a big contribution to the state’s overall growth and help reduce the burden on Melbourne’s already stretched infrastructure.
“Regional cities have got a significant role to play,” Cr Byatt said.
“We’ve got this spread of regional cities across the state that are planning for their own growth and seeing and living with their own growth.
“What we need to maintain is the liveability of those cities.
“We need to invest in those cities so that they’ve got almost urban-like, or capital city-like, attributes, services, infrastructure, so that when we do see this population explosion ... we’ve got cities ready to go.”