An alliance representing 15 regional cities from across the state - including Dubbo - is calling for bipartisan support for measures to increase housing stock amidst a regional rental crisis and skills shortage.
Regional Cities NSW (RCNSW) says the lack of available housing in regional towns across NSW is a "risk to regional growth" and are calling for both the Liberal party and Labor party to commit to doing more to address the housing shortage.
"Regional living is well and truly on the agenda, however the lack of available housing is impacting people's ability to move to the regions," said Dubbo Regional Council mayor Matthew Dickerson, chair of RCNSW.
"Housing availability has been severely impacted by numerous natural disasters across our state as well as major infrastructure projects requiring temporary accommodation."
As well as Dubbo, RCNSW represents Albury, Queenbeyan, Coffs Harbour, Griffith, Goulburn, Maitland, Bathurst, Broken Hill, Wagga Wagga, Orange, Armidale, Lismore, Tweed Heads and Tamworth.
The alliance aims to grow regional cities in NSW through increased investment that will build "productive, liveable and connected regions". One of the main challenges impeding growth, says RCNSW, is a shortage of suitable housing.
"Housing availability and affordability are major issues for regional cities resulting from recent population increases," said Cr Dickerson.
"Other critical areas requiring the support of the state government include having a supply of skilled workers to match demand, building road and rail connectivity between Sydney and regional cities and building the strength of the Port of Newcastle."
According to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between 2011 and 2022, regional NSW's population grew by 224,5001 - the equivalent to creating a new regional city the size of Bathurst every two years.
And, from 2020 to 2021 regional areas grew at a faster rate than capital cities for the first time since 1993.
RCNSW says, although regional cities have embraced the population boom, they are facing an "unprecedented demand" for infrastructure, housing and services. The alliance says the state government needs to do more to address these issues.
"If there are not long-term actions to address these issues there are risks that access to affordable housing will become an ongoing reality," RCNSW wrote in its state election policy submission.
"This further risks reducing regional cities' drawcard of being the best places to live and work and further compounding the affordability issues of the State's largest city, Sydney."
In September last year, the rental vacancy rate in the Orana region sat at just 1.9 percent.
Although rental availability has increased since their low of 0.5 percent in July last year, the current vacancy rate is a far cry from the 2.2 percent vacancy rate in January 2020, before COVID-19 shook up the market.
As well as migration trends, Cr Dickerson said regional housing demand is also being impacted by major infrastructure projects and natural disasters, with the impact of recent floods on housing availability in regional NSW yet to be fully understood.
Among RCNSW's calls to action are bipartisan support for the Regional Housing Taskforce, continued support for the regional housing package and build-to-rent developments, working with councils to activate unused land and measures to address a shortage of qualified regional planners.
"Regional councils are experiencing a skills shortage like many other businesses, and State Government support to address a lack of suitably qualified regional planners would go a long way to helping regional cities expedite development applications" Cr Dickerson explained.
"These and other priorities outlined in our submission seek to address the key issues for regional cities in NSW that will ensure growth is managed appropriately."
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