WARRNAMBOOL’S distance from Melbourne isn’t holding back the city’s progress despite other regional centres growing significantly faster, the state’s Planning Minister Matthew Guy says.
Mr Guy says the south-west’s largest city is set to capitalise from a Spring Street decentralisation push over the next decade, with added investment in country capitals.
The planning minister, who was a keynote speaker at the State Planning Conference, said the state’s larger cities would benefit from policies buffering Melbourne’s urban sprawl.
“Warrnambool is one of our key regional cities. There’s clearly opportunity for growth here as more people seek to live outside Melbourne,” Mr Guy said.
“Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong — they’re all growing strongly but Warrnambool is not separate from that growth.
“The development that’s occurred in Warrnambool over the past four years points to a growing trend.”
Mr Guy said the Napthine government was the most “pro-decentralisation” administration in the past three decades, citing former development minister Digby Crozier as a leading proponent of the policy in the late 1970s.
“The previous Labor government dropped the ball on decentralisation,” Mr Guy said. “They developed Melbourne first and considered regional cities an after-thought.”
However, opposition planning spokesman Brian Tee said the state government was “all talk five minutes to the election” with a lack of real funding for south-west infrastructure.
“This government has had three, nearly four years, in which to fix (the south-west’s) infrastructure and they’ve failed,” Mr Tee said. “People have a right to be cynical about grand words from the minister when there’s no funding to back up his statements.”
Warrnambool is set to outpace every other council area in the region in terms of growth but is trailing cities such as Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong in terms of percentage growth, according to state figures.
According to the Victoria in the Future 2014 report, Warrnambool City is projected to enjoy population growth of 0.8 per cent between 2011 and 2016. Geelong will grow by 1.3 per cent, Bendigo by 1.6 per cent and Ballarat by 1.9 per cent over the same surveyed period.
Warrnambool City Council chief executive Bruce Anson said Mr Guy’s comments highlighted the city’s strong standing at a state and federal level.
“Our city is in a period of exceptional economic development,” Mr Anson said.
“We have Warrnambool Cheese and Butter, Murray Goulburn developing in different capacities, Midfield Meat expanding their operations into milk production. In terms of health and education, we are blessed with improved or improving services including a radiotherapy centre on the way.”