The success of the region is linked to the strength and character of its communities. The capacity of communities to adapt to change (for example, population and climate) and promote greater social cohesion and wellbeing will be increasingly important into the future. Communities need to be informed, proactive and collaborative in meeting the challenges ahead.
Building community resilience and capacity will depend on establishing networks between communities in the region and with centres in adjoining regions and adjoining states.
Bourke, Central Darling and the Unincorporated Area are projected to experience slight population growth over the next 20 years. Other local government areas will experience a stable or slight decline in population.45
Communities that are heavily dependent on mining will experience population change across different phases of the mining life cycle, as well as fluctuations linked to the demand and supply of commodities. Some communities will also experience population fluctuations as a result of seasonal activities such as fruit picking, harvesting, special events and tourism.
As with most of NSW, the ageing population is increasing in the Far West. The proportion of people aged 65 years and over is projected to increase from 19 per cent in 2016 to 28 per cent in 2036. By comparison, the younger adult population is expected to decline more than other age groups.
Population changes will increase demands on the health, aged care, education and training, and public and community transport sectors. These changes also present opportunities; for example, to improve the design of seniors housing, social housing and accommodation for seasonal and itinerant workers.
Leveraging community strengths, such as cultural and heritage assets, the appeal of the region’s lifestyles and environment, and specialised services and products, present other opportunities to strengthen communities.
Proactively planning for change can produce many benefits for communities. For example, expanding the services available to seniors, such as health and leisure, information technology, tourism and recreation, supported by housing and home services, can enable seniors to remain healthy, productive and actively engaged in their communities. Similarly, younger people can be encouraged to remain in their communities by improving the services and employment opportunities available.
The region has many successful examples of collaborative partnerships and innovative solutions to meet the challenges of demographic change and service delivery, and this work should continue.
The NSW Government will work collaboratively with councils and other stakeholders to support communities, to promote resource sharing, and to pursue common issues and goals. Tools and resources, such as the NSW Strengthening Rural Communities: Resource Kit (2001), can be used to help communities become more self-sufficient. This resource needs updating to accurately reflect the current challenges facing communities.
The NSW Government is helping rural communities that are vulnerable to climate-related economic downturns to build resilience through the NSW Drought Strategy. This Strategy will support the State’s farmers to become more resilient and better prepared for future droughts, to improve their business and reduce risks, by delivering a more transparent and targeted system of drought support.
Councils across the region need to ensure there is sufficient space for cemeteries and crematoria to meet future local and regional demand. Planning for these spaces should be considered as part of future land use planning.
16.1 Update the Strengthening Rural Communities: Resource Kit as a resource for councils to help rural communities build capacity and resilience.
16.2 Undertake scenario planning with local communities to better understand the implications and factors contributing to population change.
16.3 Build drought resilience in rural communities by providing targeted support to primary producers and communities to improve preparedness and improve decision-making.
Health services in the Far West need to be tailored to meet the needs of remote communities, including Aboriginal communities, people with a disability, young people and families.
Community-based health care and the roll-out of e-health initiatives and distance education to smaller and isolated communities are examples of integrated service delivery in the Far West.
Ongoing and equitable access to aged care services across the region will help smaller regional communities retain and potentially grow their population and enable people to age-in-place.
Opportunities exist in Broken Hill, Bourke and Cobar to leverage investment in existing public health facilities to provide complementary health services that meet community need and support local employment.
As the economy and population profile of the region change, so too will the demand for skilled workers, particularly in the health, education, manufacturing, mining and renewable energy sectors.
The region has experienced difficulties in attracting and retaining skilled professionals, such as general practitioners. Remote communities obtain services from Broken Hill, Cobar or Dubbo, with most primary health care services provided only on a visiting basis. Regional Development Australia Far West has advised that the recruitment and retention of health professionals remains problematic, and retention grants do not give general practitioners enough incentives to remain in isolated areas.
Attracting and retaining skilled tradespeople across the region is also difficult, given they often have to travel long distances.
Long distances and limited and expensive air services make it difficult for training providers to reach the region, compromising the professional development of students and staff. Limited internet connectivity is also a major constraint to distance education. Within cross-border communities, such as Wentworth, some education and training services are accessed in neighbouring Victorian settlements, such as Mildura.
Improving internet access through the National Broadband Network is a priority for education, health and emergency services, and economic drivers such as agribusiness, mining and tourism.
The NSW Department of Education is reviewing its approach to asset and network planning. It is preparing a long-term strategic plan to 2031 to identify schooling needs and improve education delivery. Managing declining enrolments while providing infrastructure to improve education delivery is a key challenge. Opportunities for resource pooling and cost-sharing between schools and councils will be explored to make the best use of community assets.
Education and training providers may also be able to partner with government and private industry to provide tailored training programs, including vocational training and retraining opportunities. For example, the Broken Hill base of the Royal Flying Doctor Service offers training for medical and health science students in partnership with the University of Sydney, and provides essential remote health services.
Expanding online access to tertiary and distance education will be necessary to take advantage of these opportunities.
Opportunities also exist to better harness transferable skills across different industries, and provide better incentives to attract and retain skilled workers, such as housing, travel and holiday leave.
Public and community transport services connect people to jobs, housing and services (including health care and education), both within the region and with centres in adjoining regions and states. These services are essential to remote communities.
Transport for NSW will work with bus operators to improve bus service connections and provide the necessary transport services between regional communities and for regional communities. Transport for NSW is also committed to developing a long-term plan for regional rail to improve services to towns and villages, and connections to metropolitan cities, including Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.46
The NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan highlighted that the western region has the highest per capita use of community transport in regional NSW. Community transport providers need to identify and plan for future community transport needs.
Water supply is critical for communities and to support development and industry growth. Investment in water security infrastructure can be a catalyst for new industries such as agribusiness, value-added manufacturing and mining.
At the local level, water supply and sewerage services are provided by councils as well as a NSW Government-owned corporation in Broken Hill. These services operate within guidelines issued by the Department of Industry to secure drinking water supplies for country towns and to assist regional water utilities to meet standards for water supply and sewerage services. In Bourke, issues with town water supply have been ongoing and need to be resolved.
The costs associated with servicing water infrastructure can be a major barrier to new development and industry growth in many communities in the region. Opportunities for establishing partnerships and sharing the cost of capital between industries need to be explored to overcome this barrier.
Even with investment in water security infrastructure, innovative and adaptive measures will still be needed, given the potential effects of climate change.
Broken Hill’s water supply has traditionally been drawn from the Darling River and Menindee Lakes, and pumped over 120 kilometres, with alternative sources including Stephens Creek Reservoir, Umberumberka Reservoir and Imperial Lake. These sources have been insufficient to sustain a secure water supply.
In June 2016, the NSW Government announced that it would build a 270-kilometre pipeline from the Murray River to Broken Hill. Scheduled for completion by 2018,47 it is part of a $500 million strategy to ensure that Broken Hill and nearby communities have a secure, long-term supply of water. The project will contribute to meeting water recovery targets under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan, and will help irrigation industries across the State.
Cobar’s water supply is provided via the ageing Albert Priest Channel pipeline and delivery system, which relies primarily on the Macquarie River. This source has also been deficient and unreliable. Cobar has received funding to secure its water supply through the Resources for Regions program and Restart NSW,48 including $7.8 million towards a new water treatment plant, $2.1 million towards a new sewerage treatment plant and $5 million towards replacing twin pipelines between Cobar and Nyngan.
Restart NSW funding has also provided for a feasibility assessment of piping the Albert Priest Channel.
Over time, demand will increase for both new and more varied housing. Seniors, single people, split households, students, professionals and itinerant workers all require housing to suit their specific needs. Older residents need housing that allows them to retain a connection to their community and transition into higher-needs care, if necessary.
New housing needs to be designed to cope with temperature extremes, heavy rainfall, drought, bushfires and flooding. Building design that incorporates passive solar access, water-efficient features and thermal qualities will contribute to lower energy costs and a more comfortable lifestyle.
Guidelines for regional areas should be developed to ensure that housing is conveniently located, economical and sensitive to a changing climate.
More than 80 per cent of housing in the region is single detached houses, with caravans, cabins and houseboats the next most common type of residence. Some larger residential lots and rural lifestyle options are located on the edge of settlements.
Large residential lots in villages provide opportunities for new housing that can use existing infrastructure, services and access laneways.
The traditional street grid pattern in towns and villages provides opportunities for ‘infill’ housing and homes for seniors or smaller homes in some areas. Many towns and villages can support extra housing in already serviced areas. This will allow for the best use of existing infrastructure.
Innovative design can be applied to redundant former commercial or administrative buildings in town centres to provide medium density housing and to help activate and revitalise town centres. Heritage studies will help councils obtain funding for upgrading/refurbishment of built heritage items.
Even in areas with stable populations, demand is still likely for new dwellings, with smaller households seeking a greater variety of housing types. Where it is no longer viable to maintain existing dwellings, there is also likely to be some demand for construction of new dwellings. This presents difficulties in that some centres have to access building and construction tradespeople from neighbouring areas in the region or from outside the region.
The Department of Planning and Environment is currently undertaking two initiatives to simplify and streamline the approval pathways for residential and other types of development in regional areas. These initiatives include investigating the potential to develop low-rise medium density housing as complying developments in areas where this type of housing is already permissible under council’s local plan. It is also investigating simplifying complying and exempt development controls via a new Inland Code for local government areas west of the Great Dividing Range.
Demand for rural residential development is driven by a desire for a semi-rural lifestyle, and a larger block of land (lots generally range between 2,000 square metres and 21 hectares) than is generally available in urban areas. Demand for rural residential living is higher in areas close to waterways, such as the Murray and Darling rivers.
The cumulative impact of inappropriate rural residential development can impact on the viability of current and future agricultural activities. Managing this type of development will become increasingly important as the regional economy diversifies and as development pressure for this type of housing increases.
When not located appropriately, rural residential development can create conflicts with other land uses such as agriculture or mining. It can result in the loss or alienation of agricultural lands, contribute to social isolation, increase the demand and cost for services, facilities and infrastructure, and harm the environment.
Typically, cost recovery for this type of housing does not occur through rates or developer contributions and extra costs are subsidised by councils and the broader community. The cost of providing and maintaining services and infrastructure for rural residential development must be carefully considered.
Councils need to ensure that proposals for new rural residential developments are supported by a local housing strategy and that they will not result in land use conflicts, or land speculation, or place pressure on the infrastructure and services used by primary producers, and the resources and energy sector.
23.4 Manage land use conflict that can result from cumulative impacts of successive rural residential development decisions.
Good urban design can add to the community’s cultural, economic and physical wellbeing by creating safe, healthy and socially inclusive places that meet the different needs of children, young people, families, singles, people with a disability and seniors.
When planning and redeveloping town centres, design and environmental considerations should be incorporated into the decision-making process. These considerations include pedestrian movement, vegetation and infrastructure for public spaces. New and existing development in the region should be designed to provide opportunities for walking and cycling, where appropriate.
Councils need to promote water sensitive urban design techniques to improve water use planning and supply, and water security. Wastewater can be re-used on parks, gardens and reserves, or to supplement agricultural uses. The Far West can become a leader in applying water sensitive design techniques.
Urban design guidelines are commonly developed with a metropolitan focus and are not applicable to regional and rural environments. Developing regional urban design guidelines will help councils when they are preparing their local plans and development control plans to respond to the climate and water security challenges within the region.
The region’s rich Aboriginal and European cultural heritage is integral to the identity and character of the Far West. Aboriginal cultural heritage includes places and items that are of significance to Aboriginal people because of their traditions, observances, lore, customs, beliefs and history. It relates to the connection and sense of belonging that Aboriginal people have with the landscape and each other.
Within the region, 11 Aboriginal places are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and 29 listed in the NSW State Heritage Register.51 Sites of cultural importance to the Aboriginal community must be recognised and appropriately managed.
Harm to Aboriginal objects and places, or areas of significance to Aboriginal people, should be avoided. Heritage is irreplaceable and should be appreciated, valued and protected for the benefit of current and future generations. Appropriate heritage management mechanisms must be implemented in consultation with the Aboriginal community.
Many buildings from the early settlement of towns are heritage-listed and include religious buildings, institutional buildings and railway stations. The entire town of Broken Hill is on the National Heritage List for its significant role in Australia’s mining industry and national development, and the planning, design and landscaping of the town, as well as its iconic isolation in the desert.52
Development can have a cumulative impact on both Aboriginal cultural heritage values and historic places. Protecting and preserving heritage at the strategic planning stage will provide greater certainty for all stakeholders in the development assessment process.
Council strategies and local plans should be consistent with heritage legislation, including:
Other priorities for councils when preparing local planning controls include:
Communities can adaptively re-use heritage items to leverage tourism opportunities. Better promotion and targeted community education initiatives may help to increase community support for adaptive re-use, and managing and protecting heritage assets.
25.1 Support councils to undertake and implement heritage studies, including regional Aboriginal cultural heritage studies in consultation with Aboriginal communities, to inform local land use strategies.
25.2 Consult with Aboriginal people and the broader community to identify heritage values at the strategic planning stage for new developments.
25.3 Investigate opportunities to increase the protection of heritage items and the revitalisation of main streets and town centres, through community education and development incentives in local plans.
25.4 Recognise and conserve heritage assets that have Aboriginal or European cultural significance, by including appropriate heritage provisions in local plans and consulting with Indigenous communities.
25.5 Provide resources to obtain heritage advice to inform planning processes.
A number of the region’s settlements are located along the Murray River, with neighbouring settlements located across the river in Victoria (for example, Wentworth and Mildura, and Balranald and Swan Hill). These communities are subject to different laws, policies and service delivery models to neighbouring Victorian settlements. This in turn influences their role, function, lifestyle options, and competition for housing, employment and investment.
People often move between settlements in these communities, with some people working in NSW and living in Victoria and others working in Victoria and accessing services in NSW. Infrastructure networks, including road and rail bridges and ferry crossings, are critical for facilitating these relationships and cross-border flows.
The Cross-Border Commissioner was appointed in 2014 to address cross-border issues facing communities, businesses and organisations that live, work and operate in NSW. The Business Plan 2015–2018 NSW Cross-Border Commissioner identifies the strategic direction for the NSW Cross-Border Commissioner. The business plan aims to resolve legislative, regulatory and policy impediments to business, economic and social development, for the benefit of cross-border communities.
Councils will need to consider cross-border strategies, including land use, infrastructure and tourism, when planning for the region.
There is a strong relationship between the demand and supply of land and housing for both NSW and Victorian Murray River councils, as they both operate within the same housing market. This relationship affects infrastructure and servicing for both jurisdictions. Matching investment incentives between the states can produce complementary development outcomes in cross-border settlements.
26.2 Work with the Victorian Government and adjoining Victorian councils to develop a cross-border land and housing monitor.
26.3 Investigate opportunities to standardise development standards in NSW and Victoria, focusing on seniors and affordable housing developments.
26.4 Work with the Victorian Government to make travel across the NSW–Victorian border easier and more convenient.
26.5 Consider cross-border strategies, including land use, infrastructure and tourism, when planning for the region.
Page last updated: 06/07/2017