The Hunter is the largest regional economy in Australia,6 ranking above Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory in terms of economic output. It drives around 28 per cent of regional NSW's total economic output and is the largest regional contributor to the State’s gross domestic product.7
The region has an estimated 322,000 jobs and this is projected to increase to 384,000 by 2036.8 There is potential to achieve higher jobs growth by planning for more diversified use of employment land.
The economy is increasingly diversified, with strong growth occurring in health care, social assistance, accommodation, food and professional services. This growth demonstrates the region is well placed to benefit from the macro trends affecting the Australian economy, such as the ageing population and greater exposure to the global economy.
The Hunter is strategically situated to leverage proximity to Asia and the region’s growing agricultural, health, education and tourism sectors to supply developing Asian economies with resources and products.
The Plan aims to strengthen the region’s economic resilience, protect its well-established economic and employment bases and build on its existing strengths to foster greater market and industry diversification.
The development of strategic employment centres is a priority across Greater Newcastle, including revitalising Newcastle City Centre and enhancing specialist centres like the University of Newcastle, John Hunter Hospital, the Port of Newcastle and Newcastle Airport. Growth in these centres will expand the regional economy and support more jobs close to where people live.
The Upper Hunter will undergo a transition in the context of a changing industry environment, particularly in mining and power generation, and emerging trends in agribusiness.
Regional Development Australia’s Smart Specialisation Strategy for the Hunter Region (2016) identified the following growth areas:
There are other industries, such as tourism, health and education, which are expected to expand as part of an overall national trend.
Greater Newcastle is a nationally significant city and its success is essential to the prosperity of the Hunter region; however, it does not have a Metropolitan Plan. A strategic long term plan will be prepared to help grow an internationally competitive economy, innovative businesses, an extensive open space network and efficient transport, and to ensure homes and jobs are delivered in the right locations. The aim is to develop the potential of the city and leverage its competitive advantages for the long term growth of the region and the State and national economies.
A focused approach across local government boundaries will improve infrastructure delivery.
A strong governance framework will provide a coordinated approach to metropolitan planning.
1.1 Prepare a Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Plan, underpinned by the following principles:
An indicative boundary has been identified for the Metropolitan Plan. The Hunter Development Corporation will consult with stakeholders on the boundary for the plan.
Greater Newcastle is home to two nationally significant gateways, Newcastle Airport and the Port of Newcastle. These assets have enormous potential to enhance the connectivity of the Hunter to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
The Port of Newcastle will continue to play an important role in the regional economy through the international export of goods and commodities (including coal and grains) from the Hunter and regional NSW. It is the largest coal exporting port in the world.
The Port of Newcastle has diversified its operations over time to respond to changing markets and demands. The port’s facilities and services will need to remain responsive to changes arising from global demand and national economic policy.
Newcastle Airport currently caters for around 1.1 million passengers each year, which will almost double by 2030.9 It is significant to unlocking the potential of the region’s tourism industry and providing an opportunity for the Hunter and Central Coast regions to export services and skilled labour to other parts of Australia and internationally.
The port and airport place high demands on land and infrastructure, affect surrounding lands and require levels of separation from adjoining land uses to sustain their success. They have the capacity to generate associated industries and regional and local employment.
Long term planning and management of both gateways will provide greater certainty for these assets and identify opportunities for further growth.
2.1 Promote diversification of operations at the Port of Newcastle and the Newcastle Airport and enhanced connectivity to the Asia-Pacific.
2.2. Develop and review strategies and precinct plans for the global gateways and surrounding lands to support their growth, diversification and sustainability.
2.3. Prepare local plans that adequately respond to air, noise and other issues relevant to the gateways to protect their ongoing operations and expansion.
Revitalising Newcastle City Centre will be the catalyst that transforms ‘Newcastle’ as a regional centre to Greater Newcastle as a metropolitan city.
The revitalisation of Newcastle City Centre will create a place that attracts people, activities and investment from all over the Asia-Pacific.
Over the next 20 years, it is projected job numbers will increase from 25,000 to 33,000,10 as a result of the region’s potential to attract a growing number of national corporate headquarters. Accommodation, food and entertainment will add value to the city’s economy. They will be supported by upgrades to tourism infrastructure that will enable more visitors to arrive in the city centre by sea and air, expanding on the more than one million people that currently visit Newcastle each year.
The expansion of the University of Newcastle will be a catalyst for the development of the city centre. The education and job offerings, great lifestyle and relative affordability compared with Sydney, will attract new residents to Newcastle City Centre.
The Newcastle Light Rail, from Wickham to Pacific Park, will provide frequent, reliable and comfortable travel through the city centre. The new transport interchange at Wickham will integrate trains, buses, taxis, light rail, cyclists and pedestrian drop-offs and pick-ups. These projects will provide the backbone for future extensions of the transport network.
Development will leverage the city centre’s urban amenity, industrial heritage, harbour and ocean frontage, and access in the region. The revitalisation of Newcastle City Centre will strengthen connections between the city and the waterfront and enhance the public domain.
Focusing investment in developing infrastructure to alleviate pinch points will lead to large-scale renewal projects, including site amalgamation and remediation. The NSW Government will lead by example and partner with other organisations to deliver landmark infrastructure projects.
3.1 Promote the growth and renewal of Newcastle City Centre through local strategies and controls.
3.2 Leverage the increased presence of the University of Newcastle in the city centre.
3.3 Develop local housing strategies for student and visitor accommodation and social and affordable housing.
3.4 Focus investment in developing infrastructure to:
The Upper Hunter is undergoing a transition with major transformation occurring in power generation, emerging technologies, growth opportunities in agriculture and changes in the mining sector. With its links to the global gateways and the Greater Newcastle area, there are opportunities for growth in the Upper Hunter.
This part of the region has natural features and resources that sustain some of the most mature, diverse and successful rural and resource industries in Australia. The Upper Hunter is recognised as a major supplier of coal, energy, wine and thoroughbred horses to national and global markets. These industries have driven investment in transport and energy infrastructure, and will continue to underpin the growth and diversification of the Hunter’s economy and employment base.
In the coming decades, the growth and diversification of the Hunter’s mining and energy industries will be influenced by global and national energy demands and policies. Identifying land and infrastructure requirements that can support the future development of the region’s coal and alternative energy resources will enable the Upper Hunter to respond to new and emerging opportunities.
The Upper Hunter is recognised for its agricultural diversity and there is growing demand for its beef and other agricultural products. These industries, together with the viticulture and equine sectors, will continue to benefit from the quality of the region’s natural features and systems and the competitive advantages of the Upper Hunter. They will also be able to capitalise on new and emerging opportunities in both the domestic and Asian markets.
There is capacity to export mining and agricultural knowledge, especially in the equine and viticulture industries.
Protecting the Upper Hunter’s landscape and leveraging its established agricultural industries will help to increase its appeal as a tourist destination.
It is important that the Upper Hunter connects to the broader Hunter region to make the most of the region’s population size, infrastructure, transport and services, as well as its access to markets, research and development and industry – all requirements for future prosperity in the Upper Hunter.
5.1 Prepare for the diversification and innovation of the economy in response to long term industry restructuring in coal and power generation and the growth in new high-technology primary industry and associated specialist knowledge-based industries and rural tourism.
5.2 Leverage the regional advantages of the Upper Hunter to create a diverse, thriving and prosperous economy built upon industry growth and investment.
5.3 Identify the land and infrastructure requirements to develop the Hunter’s coal and alternative energy resources.
5.4 Protect the availability and quality of resources to sustain agricultural industries in the region.
5.5 Improve land use certainty and enable innovation by reviewing and amending planning frameworks.
5.6 Plan for water security to shape regional infrastructure investment and economic development.
5.7 Develop the Upper Hunter Economic Diversification Project report.
5.8 Review the Upper Hunter Strategic Regional Land Use Plan.
The MidCoast and Port Stephens area is defined by its pristine natural environment and diverse agriculture.
The area’s economy and employment base are largely service-based and highly seasonal, especially in the coastal towns of Forster and Nelson Bay. These factors reflect its tourism economy and ageing communities. The quality of the natural environment also underpins valuable rural and resource industries.
Health care is the largest provider of jobs and this sector is expected to grow with the forecast increases in the ageing population. Clustering of allied health around the Manning Base Hospital at Taree, and other health facilities will support continuing economic and population growth.
The completion of the Pacific Highway upgrade has cut travel times for visitors accessing the wide range of tourist activities in the area. This is supported by upgrades to Newcastle and Taree airports, allowing more visitors to directly enter the area.
Travel times offer opportunities for industries to expand and supply products to Greater Newcastle and Sydney. This will act as a catalyst for employment growth. Attracting new industries and growing existing industries that can leverage the accessibility provided by the Pacific Highway will support economic growth.
6.1 Enhance tourism infrastructure and connectivity, recognising the importance of:
6.2 Enhance links to regional services in Greater Newcastle.
6.3 Enable economic diversity and new tourism opportunities that focus on reducing the impacts of the seasonal nature of tourism and its effect on local economies.
6.4 Promote growth of industries that can leverage accessibility provided by the Pacific Highway.
6.5 Plan for and provide infrastructure and facilities that support the ageing population.
Defence is an important sector in the Hunter economy, with defence establishments at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Williamtown, Lone Pine Barracks in the Singleton Military Area and Myambat Logistic Company near Denman. The defence sector has strong relationships with housing, logistics, technology, education and manufacturing industries in the region.
The Australian Government is seeking to grow the defence and aerospace-related industries in and around the Royal Australian Air Force base at Williamtown and has committed to upgrading the national air defence infrastructure in the precinct. A cluster of aerospace knowledge industries, both in the civil and defence sectors, is emerging in the precinct.
Manufacturing is the third-largest employer in the Hunter region, employing 9.9 per cent of the region’s workforce, compared with 8.5 per cent for the rest of NSW.12 The Hunter’s manufacturing sector will remain important to the region.
Innovation and new practices will help manufacturing businesses adapt to changing global and national markets. This includes exploring opportunities to increase exports of products and partnering with education and research institutions. Delivering infrastructure that supports innovation in manufacturing will support the regional economy.
7.1 Facilitate development opportunities on land surrounding Newcastle Airport at Williamtown to cluster emerging high-technology industry, defence and aerospace activities.
7.2 Grow and diversify the manufacturing sector through local planning and appropriate planning controls.
7.3 Promote manufacturing business export opportunities and become part of global supply chains.
7.4 Facilitate research partnerships between tertiary education providers and businesses.
7.5 Protect strategic defence establishments with appropriate planning controls and compatible adjoining land uses.
The service sector is growing rapidly compared with the rest of the economy. Supporting service sector growth and innovation is key to the Hunter’s economic success as it drives business competitiveness and job creation. The rise of middle-class consumers throughout the world, particularly in Asia, significantly increases the potential customer base for new products and services in the health, education and tourism sectors.14
Small businesses are a large employer in the Hunter region and a significant contributor to its economy, with two-thirds of the 45,000 Hunter businesses employing fewer than four people.15 Small and medium businesses account for the largest share of job creation.16 They are also more likely to be innovative and introduce new or improved goods. Therefore, providing a diversity of development opportunities is important to support jobs growth in sectors such as manufacturing and professional services and creative industries.
The Hunter has the largest concentration of people employed in creative industries in regional NSW, with one in four people working in this sector in the area. Over 97 per cent of businesses are small enterprises, which are mostly located in the Newcastle Local Government Area.17
Health and education are two of the largest sectors in the region’s economy. They are also two of the fastest-growing sectors, with the number of jobs projected to increase from 63,000 to 73,000, representing 21 per cent of the workforce by 2036.18 Health and education services will be essential to support the growth of local communities.
8.1 Implement initiatives to promote small business growth and innovation, particularly in Newcastle City Centre and other strategic centres.
8.2 Facilitate opportunities for incubator spaces for technology and non-technology early stage businesses, and ensure opportunities for new and emerging enterprises are encouraged.
8.3 Improve connectivity to the region’s major health and education precincts and strategic centres.
8.4 Foster education precincts in Greater Newcastle to encourage a centre of excellence in tertiary and vocational education.
8.5 Establish a health precinct around Metford and other hospitals in the region, including Manning Base Hospital at Taree.
8.6 Determine potential to grow allied health services on land around hospitals and health services at Kurri Kurri, Belmont, Cessnock, Gloucester, Muswellbrook, Singleton, Nelson Bay and Dungog.
There is huge potential for the Hunter to increase the number of nights visitors spend in the region from an annual 8.8 million.19
Protecting the Hunter’s pristine natural areas will keep them attractive to visitors. The coastal areas are some of the most visited and scenic parts of the region and are entry points to the vast Barrington Tops National Park, a World Heritage area.
Increasing the appeal of the Hunter Valley’s vineyards and cellar doors will support a range of complementary tourism activities. Maintaining the scenic rural landscape of the Pokolbin and Broke Fordwich wine-growing areas will encourage growth in tourism and agricultural production.
The region can also capitalise on the growth in food-based or gastronomic tourism throughout the Manning Valley and Hunter Valley to support growers of products such as olives and oysters, as well as the beef and dairy industries. There is potential to align growth of the international centre of excellence for thoroughbreds in the Upper Hunter with growth in food-based and wine tourism.
9.1 Enable investment in infrastructure to expand the tourism industry, including connections to tourism gateways and attractions.
9.2 Encourage tourism development in natural areas that support conservation outcomes.
9.3 Undertake a land use assessment across the Viticulture Critical Industry Cluster to balance scenic amenity and ongoing growth in tourism.
9.4 Enable the growth of tourism in the Upper Hunter through integration with the Equine Critical Industry Cluster.
9.5 Develop capacity for growth in food- based tourism.
There are major international trends that the Hunter can capitalise on to increase agricultural productivity, such as increasing global connectivity and proximity to Asia, where the demand for fresh food is growing. Globally, middle-class markets are expected to be looking for value-added agricultural produce, including wine, cheese and other food products.
Domestically, the Hunter has competitive advantages courtesy of its proximity to the rapidly growing Sydney market, connectivity to regions to the north, west and south, and the export capability available through the Port of Newcastle and Newcastle Airport.
Further diversification will enable the region’s agricultural industries to seize these opportunities. There are already 3,503 agricultural businesses operating in the region, delivering more than $946 million in wholesale value.20
Agricultural producers require ongoing access to a specific combination of resources and conditions such as quality land and water supply, favourable climate, labour, supply chains, processing facilities and markets. The NSW Government has mapped Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, which contains high-quality soil and water resources capable of sustaining high levels of productivity.
The NSW Government has also worked with councils and industry to develop methodologies for mapping Important Agricultural Land. Mapping of agricultural industries will support their sustainable growth.
Promoting sustainable growth in the agribusiness sector alongside other key industries will require more focus on:
Biosecurity is important to the wellbeing and prosperity of the region. In 2013, the NSW Government developed the NSW Biosecurity Strategy 2013-2021 to highlight the measures that can be taken to protect the economy, environment and community from the negative impacts of pests, diseases and weeds.
Biosecurity risks can often be minimised through appropriate land zoning and by applying buffers to separate different land uses, making use of distance, vegetation or topography.
10.1 Protect locations that can accommodate agricultural enterprises from incompatible development, and facilitate the supply chain, including infrastructure, distribution areas, processing facilities and research and development in local plans.
10.2 Address sector-specific considerations for agricultural industries through local plans.
10.3 Protect the region’s wellbeing and prosperity through increased biosecurity measures.
10.4 Encourage niche commercial, tourist and recreation activities that complement and promote a stronger agricultural sector, and build the sector’s capacity to adapt to changing circumstances.
10.5 Develop an agribusiness industry strategy in areas experiencing high population growth to retain jobs and agribusiness growth for the Hunter.
10.6 Manage Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land and other important agricultural land as locations for agricultural activities and complementary uses.
There are competing uses for land in this region and there is a need to balance these interests in order to deliver the vision for this region. As part of the process to achieve balanced outcomes, the NSW Government has introduced a Strategic Release Framework for Coal and Petroleum. This is a mechanism to review and define which lands may constitute new exploration release areas. New exploration licences will only be issued in areas released by the Minister for Resources and Energy after an assessment of resource potential and economic, environmental and social factors. Community consultation and an upfront assessment of social, environmental and economic matters will occur through a preliminary regional issues assessment.
This new framework is transparent, informed and consistent with the NSW Government’s broader mineral and energy resource strategies. Coal mining will remain significant in the region.
The combination of undeveloped coal resources in the Hunter and Newcastle coalfields and the export capability of the Port of Newcastle provide significant opportunities for growth.
Mining activities have specific operational needs that can compete with other sensitive uses, however they are also temporary and depend on the productive life of the facility or resource. Once extractive resource lands have been identified, there may be opportunities to identify interim activities that can occur without sterilising the underlying resource.
Developing land use plans that respond to the lifecycle of the extractive resource area provides all stakeholders with certainty around the long term use and productive value of the land.
The NSW Government is committed to ensuring the long term profitability and sustainability of our forests and forestry industries. The region’s forests provide tourism and recreation activities, habitat and wood products through harvesting, and environmental services such as good water quality, native habitat and connectivity with other forests (such as national parks).
11.1 Manage the ongoing use of mineral resources and provide access to up-to-date information about these resources through the Department of Industry’s Common Ground website and its Geoscientific Data Warehouse.
11.2 Work with relevant stakeholders, including councils, communities and industry, to prepare land use plans that respond to the lifecycle of resource activity for active and emerging mining areas.
11.3 Implement the cumulative impact assessment methodology when planning for important agricultural land and water resources.
11.4 Review the Synoptic Plan: Integrated landscapes for coal mine rehabilitation in the Hunter Valley (1999) in conjunction with the development of the Upper Hunter Strategic Biodiversity Assessment to ensure best-practice rehabilitation and visual impact management for closed mines.
The Hunter accounts for 44 per cent of power generation in NSW,21 however prospective closures of Liddell and Bayswater power stations in 2022 and 2035 respectively,22 mean the transformation in the energy sector that is under way will need to be accelerated.
The Hunter has the solar, wind and geothermal resources to deliver large-scale projects. It is already home to some landmark projects including CSIRO’s solar farm in Newcastle.
Energy efficient and renewable energy technologies can drive innovation, improve business and agricultural productivity and underpin long term economic growth. Ground–source heat exchange, solar pumping in agriculture, bioenergy, small-scale hydro, hydrogen and storage technologies have enormous potential to contribute to the regional economy.
With its energy industries and research base, the Hunter region has the potential to be a major hub for next-generation power.
12.1 Diversify and grow the energy sector by working with stakeholders, including councils, communities and industry, to identify and support opportunities for smaller-scale renewable energy initiatives such as those using bioenergy or waste coalmine methane.
12.2 Enable opportunities for renewable energy industries by reviewing local planning controls.
12.3 Promote new opportunities arising from the closure of coal-fired power stations that enable long term sustainable economic and employment growth in the region.
Ongoing investment in rural and resource industries will underpin the sustainable growth, economic prosperity and ongoing productivity of the Hunter region. As the Hunter continues to grow and new economic development opportunities emerge for rural and resource industries, there is potential for compatibility issues to arise and for competition to develop for water resources and for infrastructure to support other uses.
There is also potential for conflict if new housing encroaches into rural and resource areas, leading to increased management costs. Conflict could also affect the potential to sustain or grow rural and resource industries. The expansion of rural and resource industries can also affect established urban activities if not managed appropriately. Land use planning can provide greater certainty for investment in rural and resource industries by establishing clear parameters and transparent processes to support new development.
Managing the compatibility of land uses requires a whole-of-government response. The NSW Government is already responding to community concerns about the long term future of coal and gas mining around the State. The Government has developed a policy framework for strategic release areas for coal and petroleum exploration licences and assessment leases. The Department has begun a project to investigate and develop options to provide greater guidance on assessing and managing the social impacts of State significant mining projects.
The NSW Government will continue to engage with communities, interest groups and industry around land use conflict to better understand all sides of the debate. This will assist with future policy-making and initiatives that balance the economic, social and environmental needs of the Hunter community.
13.1 Identify and protect important agricultural land, including intensive agricultural clusters, in local plans to avoid land use conflicts, particularly associated with residential expansion.
13.2 Limit urban and rural housing encroachment into identified agricultural and extractive resource areas, industrial areas and transport infrastructure when preparing local strategies.
13.3 Amend planning controls to deliver greater certainty of land use.
13.4 Provide non-statutory guidance on the types of land uses that would be considered most appropriate, suitable or sympathetic to existing land uses in the Upper Hunter and other areas where land use conflicts occur.
Page last updated: 13/11/2019