Western Sydney and the Illawarra Shoalhaven – it’s time coordinated, integrated planning

Picture a large room with two people glancing at each other, wanting to engage but hesitating, waiting for the right moment to put out their hand, inviting the other to dance.

For Western Sydney and the Illawarra Shoalhaven that time is now.

Yesterday Michael Comninos was a panellist at the Cross-Regional Transport Forum, organised by the Illawarra Shoalhaven Joint Organisation. The forum builds on ISJO’s recent positioning paper – the Western Sydney Illawarra Shoalhaven Roadmap to Collaboration. Motivated by the 2026 deadline for the Western Sydney International (Nancy Bird-Walton) airport, the paper advocates for greater collaboration between the Illawarra-Shoalhaven region and Western Sydney.

For the panel, Michael was joined by Tania BrownTim Poole and Adam Zarth. Michael focused on the coalescence of three elements to provide transformative infrastructure between the Illawarra-Shoalhaven and Western Sydney.

Where we are now: Coordinated, integrated planning for greater metropolitan Sydney

A planning shift in 2018 positioned Sydney as a metropolis of three cities: the Eastern Harbour City, Central River City and Western Parkland City. For Western Sydney, this coordinated approach was galvanised by the Western Sydney City Deal and the shared ambition of eight Councils, state and federal government. The airport deadline in 2026 has been a great motivator to get things done, built on a foundation of trust.

Western Sydney has been formally decoupled to be its own City and create its own relationships with other regions.

Where we could be: the Sandstone Mega-Region

The next extension of co-ordinated and integrated planning is reimagining connections between Sydney’s three cities and its neighbours. In June 2018, the Committee for Sydney released an investigative paper investigating the  ‘Sandstone Mega-Region’: a geography encompassing Newcastle, the Central Coast, Sydney’s three cities, and Wollongong. Better integration between these cities through improved connectivity would improve housing affordability, jobs access and regional employment – ideally, supported by one-hour or less rail connection between the cities.

If we took a long term view of how to plan the delivery of this Mega-Region we would provide redundancy and resilience – better connections between the Illawarra-Shoalhaven and Western Sydney could create a connection that doesn’t rely on the Eastern City to get goods to market at scale.

This would be of mutual benefit, and provide a multigenerational and structural change to the flow of resources between these regions.

What we have to do: The great reset

As outlined by the World Economic Forum, now is the time for the ‘great reset’ – to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies. COVID-19 disruption has given this task unprecedented urgency.

Rethinking the relationship between the digital, physical and spatial will be key to City resilience. We’ve made working from home possible for many jobs – and in some cases, this is preferred. There will be an initial hesitation around getting services and people back into Sydney CBD and Parramatta, firms, customers and the community are considering their options and stated preferences.

The liveability offering of regional centres and the opportunity to work locally is more compelling than ever. We can make sure that people have the choice by removing barriers through the use of technology, and utilising digital and transport connections to overcome physical distance.

The great reset is our generation’s way to reconnect with Australia’s regions.

Michael Comninos is Astrolabe’s founder and director. He has over fifteen years of experience developing and implementing strategy, policy and regulatory reform in planning and infrastructure.