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Monday 19 October 2020

If we’ve learnt nothing else in the last six months it’s the value of our lifestyle here in Port Macquarie.  A healthy work life balance is more achievable in our area with more open space and opportunities for passive recreation in our own backyard and active recreation in parks, reserves, the many walking or cycling trails and of course our beautiful beaches.  In this area we truly enjoy an enviably healthy lifestyle in a beautiful environment coupled with an ideal climate.

All indications are that others have discovered this and there is an exodus from the cities underway with many people taking the opportunity to embark on a seachange or tree change.  Renowned demographer Bernard Salt has recently predicted a migration of city dwellers relocating to regional areas right across Australia.  He calls them the “VESPA” movement – Virus Escapees Seeking Provincial Australia.

In some telling statistics cited by Mr Salt the Mid North Coast has recorded the second highest increase of inbound migration in regional NSW over the past 12 months.  This is supported anecdotally by high activity levels in property sales since May, as reported by many Port Macquarie Real Estate agents.

This shift appears to be driven by a desire to seek a better lifestyle and at the same time the realisation that work from home and internet based professional services are relocatable.  In other words, why commute for two hours every day in a congested city when you can live in the country, enjoy relaxed healthy lifestyle and still do the same task remotely.  The interesting question is how this will play out for Port Macquarie as a highly desirable regional growth centre and what opportunities and challenges the resultant inbound migration will present.

Obvious challenges from the increased population growth are higher demand on local infrastructure such as road networks, water supply, sewerage, power and telecommunication services.  Urban Growth Management Plans by Port Macquarie Council are currently based on a predicted population of over 100,000 by 2036.  This analysis relied upon a predicted growth rate of 2% per annum which may need to be reviewed and updated if a higher long term trending growth pattern is identified.

There are several major infrastructure projects planned or underway that are likely to address both a backlog and some of the future predicted growth.  The Ocean Drive upgrade, Hastings River Drive and Boundary Street upgrades along with the new Thrumster Sewerage Treatment Plant and improved water supply capability are some prime examples.  However, further longer term planning may now need to look decades beyond those earlier studies and into a prism that allows for a higher ultimate population.

Opportunities from inbound migration include a more diverse local economy and increased business activity driven by higher demand.  Those relocating will likely bring additional professional and technical skills as well as completely new business models to the area.  In the best case scenario this could bring high tech digital businesses and niche manufacturing industries to Port Macquarie.  The flow on effect being greater employment opportunities and skills training for local school leavers.

A further benefit from increased population will be greater access to government funding for upgrading all types of infrastructure and the relocation of government departments.  Such growth and diversity would attract further enhancement of educational and medical services which could also include research facilities such as that established by CSIRO.

Others wishing to make Port Macquarie their home present many challenges through the pressures of an increasing population.  Ongoing awareness, planning and investment in infrastructure and preservation of our natural features is needed to mitigate these growing pains.  However, there are many advantages and opportunities in becoming a small regional city that comes with prosperity, enhanced health services, higher educational, skills training, employment opportunities and longer term stability for business operators.