Clearly, the Australian regions need more population growth and the major cities less. An Australian mega-region provides this, together with superior economic performance and lower cost of infrastructure.
One definition of mega-region is a spatial and structural outcome of urban expansion, exploitation of comparative advantage and increasing international interaction. Another is a large network of metropolitan regions that share several or all the following: environment systems and topology, infrastructure systems, economic linkages, settlement and land-use patterns and common culture. Further, a distribution of a broader range of economic activity across a network of neighbouring separate cities than any one metropolis could hope to encompass. This allows firms located in the mega-region to capture a larger share of global value chains (business) than any individual city. Connecting the mega-region by High Speed Rail (HSR) and shared identity are the keys.
It has been noted that there are 40 mega-regions in the world which contribute 2/3 of global economic output, 90% of global innovation but only cover 18% of world population.
The key ingredients of a mega-region are:
1 Two or more growing metropolitan areas
2 A rapidly growing in-between zone
3 Multiple transport connections
4 Complementary growth patterns
5 A diversified regional economy
6 HSR connecting a diverse but shared workforce
Benefits of a mega-region are:
1 More diversified, less prone to down-turn; more robust
2 Businesses have access to more customers, partners and suppliers
3 Workers gain a wide range of job opportunities
4 Residents gain access to more entertainment, shops and recreation
5 People have access to a deeper housing market and range of prices
6 Maximum agglomeration for innovation
Key factors for success are:
1 Build new large regional cities attractive to settlers that generate greater innovation
2 Build one uniform HSR system connecting all new cities and major cities in the mega-region based
on leading Japanese technology and finance
3 Grow the Australian dominant global niche industry (e.g. CSL and Resmed)
4 Leadership ensures all pull together
5 Establish the mega-region before the next economic crisis when finance for it evaporates
McKinsey Global Institute noted that China and India are consciously creating new mega-regions while American and European mega-regions are created by sprawl. Australian cities are sprawling enough. Conscious creation is a more attractive and productive approach.
It is envisaged that the mega-region would have six new regional cities of 1-3million people on the HSR line, two on either side of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. They would be within about 100-200km and commuting would take on average 30 minutes to the next new city CBD and to the nearest major city CBD. As a new city reaches 3m, another new city of 1-3m would be established on the HSR line. The mega-region would accommodate a very large growing population.
As the cost of building housing and infrastructure to accommodate a growing population in the country is around half the cost of building for the same growth in major cities, the cost of the population increase in the regions of a mega-region would be less than the same increase in three growing poly-centric mega-cities.
The total cost of the connecting transport infrastructure (around $200 billion), that is, the HSR, plus an adjacent dedicated fast freight rail (FFR) to serve all cities and building 400,000 inner-city dwellings above the tracks in the three main cities would pay for itself in the 10-year construction time when the dwellings are sold.
Much of the large cost savings on the mega-region infrastructure would be invested in more R&D for greater innovation, productivity, international competitiveness and prosperity. More everyday and technical jobs would be created, especially in the regions.
An Australian corridor mega-region on the HSR line would include, in time, Adelaide, Geelong, Melbourne, Hobart (connected by air and sea), Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Newcastle, Gold Coast, Brisbane, and Sunshine Coast, together with six new cities of 1-3m, one to the west of Geelong, one to the east of Melbourne in Gippsland, one to the south of Sydney and one to the north of Newcastle, one on the Gold Coast and one on the Sunshine Coast.
The mega-region, through greater cooperation, collaboration and connectivity, would generate superior performance, productivity, and international competitiveness with this superior settlement strategy for a growing population. It would raise growth and forestall the next recession. It would end housing unaffordability and significantly combat climate change through reduced air and land transport emissions. It would greatly improve liveability, prosperity and wellbeing. It is the practical and achievable way forward for Australia.