The NSW Premier tasked the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC) to create a Central Coast Strategy “that will identify priorities to capitalise on the region’s significant potential” last year but what will it deliver?
By Jackie Pearson
It is unclear why this was considered a necessary step by the Premier given we have the NSW Government’s Central Coast Regional Plan 2036 which is only five years old.
Perhaps the 2036 plan was not moving fast enough in the areas the NSW Government and its ‘stakeholder partners’ considers important – “opportunities for employment and economic growth”.
The aim of the Greater Sydney Commission’s Central Coast Strategy will be to support existing industries and attract new businesses and investment to the Coast. Those aims sound very similar to the ones expressed in the earlier regional plan but perhaps the GSC’s plan will focus more on business and investment.
The Greater Sydney Commission has now published a report highlighting stakeholder feedback from its engagement with Central Coast businesses about economic opportunities in the region.
The Commission undertook preliminary consultation with government agencies and key industry partners in the region, to identify initial focus areas, before seeking wider community feedback over seven weeks through an online engagement portal.
Feedback from the community is being considered in the Central Coast Strategy, which is expected to be released in coming months.
The feedback findings don’t include any great surprises. There’s a desire for a university in the Gosford CBD to stimulate the economy and provide jobs close to home. It would also help to retain and attract young people to the region.
“This option would need to be supported by key infrastructure, including adequate parking, affordable accommodation, local shops and cafes and increased transport connections.” In the 2019 federal election, both the member for Robertson, Ms Lucy Wicks and Labor’s candidate Anne Charlton supported a Gosford CBD campus for the UON.
COVID-19 has obviously placed great pressure on universities so expansion may not be a top priority for UON at this stage but Ms Wicks has been quiet about the proposed CBD campus recently.
Another ‘focus area’ was expansion of health services in Gosford to support the growing population and generate local jobs. There’s absolutely nothing new in the feedback around this issue.
Facilitation of faster transport networks was the next focus area. This would involve more frequent bus and train services, measures to ease traffic and renewal of aging transport infrastructure. Fair enough.
The consultation process also told the GSC that the Coast needs more serviced industrial land. Specialised employment hubs would be welcome, it said, “advanced manufacturing or technology for example”.
Perhaps the GSC needs to ask the Premier for the mobile phone number of the current interim Administrator at Central Coast Council.
They could discuss the utilisation of the Coast’s best serviced and least utilised industrial land at Warnervale, currently let, at a loss, to the Central Coast Aero Club which runs a private pilot school out of Warnervale landing strip. Or perhaps affordable charter flights to metropolitan centres are being considered as a solution to our desire for improved transport links.
Support for Warnervale landing strip expanding to become an aviation hub is, however, identified as an emerging issue so it looks like that land will remain tied up for the exclusive use of the aero club for the foreseeable future. And they may even get the green light to expand into the neighbouring wetland depending on what comes through Council’s own engagement portal as a result of the current exhibition of a few colour-coded maps.
Then of course, we have the gem of the need for streamlined planning processes and faster approvals for developments. Community input and consultation should be retained, we are assured.
The lack of high-speed internet is another barrier to our region’s economic success, according to the GSC. It remains to be seen how a state government authority with no control over broadband service delivery or infrastructure can play a part in resolving this issue. Perhaps this will be unveiled in their next report.
Other emerging issues were leveraging and supporting our substantial natural assets and green spaces to encourage ecotourism – and I promise I did not write that one.
Incentives to encourage businesses to relocate to the Central Coast was another suggestion which I believe was a pet project of the last Council CEO before he was dismissed.
So what happens next?
According to the GSC “Feedback collected through the engagement portal is now being analysed and considered while drafting the strategy” – so they know what the strategy is going to say before they analyse the feedback?
“The GSC is collaborating closely with agencies and stakeholders to ensure that opportunities for investment and growth are identified for the region” – which agencies and stakeholders and where will the money come from?
“De-identified responses from the engagement portal will be shared with partner agencies in the Central Coast region who are assisting the GSC in the drafting of the strategy.” Which agencies? RDACC, Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation. Let me see. Have I forgotten anybody? Anyone seen Lee Shearer lately?
After all that, the Central Coast Regional Strategy is expected to be released in April, May or June, so we don’t have very long to wait. Premier Berejiklian will no doubt come to Mingara to launch the Strategy and it will solve every problem that this region has been grappling with since the 1980s.
What would happen if the money spent on strategies and consultation was turned into funding to create real jobs? That idea doesn’t appear to have made it through the engagement portal.
To see if you can make any more sense out of the GSC consultation report, you can find it here.