Spotlight on Greater Newcastle: Developing a New Identity

Across the world there is a movement looking at new ways to stimulate and leverage the economic and social contribution of major regional centres and ‘second cities’.

Second cities offer many benefits, ranging from the economic to culture and lifestyle. As well as easing pressure on their capital city counterparts, second cities are often the key to providing strategic gateways to regional economies.

Greater Newcastle, with an estimated population of over 560,000, is well placed to wear the Global Second City mantle. Last October the University of Newcastle’s Hunter Research Foundation (HRF) Centre hosted the Second Cities: Smaller and Smarter Symposium, an international program for airing and contesting leading contemporary thought in urban and regional planning and development. This was immediately followed by the international New Urban Agenda conference on affordable and sustainable cities.

The Second Cities Symposium attracted more than 200 participants from state and local government, the private sector, industry groups, the community sector and the University. , The collaborative development of a strong identity for the region was identified, through a final workshop, as one of seven priorities needed to advance the region.

To make this particular priority a reality the HRF Centre and the Hunter & Central Coast Development Corporation have joined forces in recent workshops to consider the positioning and identity of Greater Newcastle. The aim is to develop a compelling case for people to visit, live, open a business and/or invest in the region.

Cities Leadership Institute spoke with Kate Robinson, Strategic projects, HRF Centre about the workshops, the rationale and the process of building an identity.

Cities Leadership Institute: Why does Newcastle need a ‘new’ identity’? And why now?

Kate Robinson: Greater Newcastle is Australia’s seventh largest city and provides a global gateway for northern NSW. Its rich industrial history remains an important part of its DNA, reflecting the influence of large industry in Greater Newcastle (such as BHP) and the role of the resources sector in the Hunter Valley.

The regional economy has been diversifying for some decades, and as a result is increasingly drawing strength from investment and growth in new industries. Despite this, anecdotal evidence suggests that the region continues to be identified largely within the context of our industrial heritage.

While we embrace our history, the region’s stakeholders have commented that this perception may be a barrier to attracting new investment, visitors and new residents. The aim of this project is to showcase the transformation of Greater Newcastle and the Hunter by developing a clear and compelling identity for the region, which resonates locally, nationally and globally.

CLI: What are the geographic boundaries when we talk about Greater Newcastle?

KR: Greater Newcastle comprises five lower Hunter Local Government Areas (LGAs). These are Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Cessnock and Port Stephens.

These five LGAs form part of the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils, which includes a further five LGAs from the Upper Hunter. The identity and positioning project will work closely with stakeholders across the entire Hunter region.

CLI: The stakeholders who came together from across the region for the workshops included representatives from business, government, arts and culture, tourism and the community.

What commonalities did these seemingly diverse groups find in establishing a coherent identity?

KR: Lifestyle and livability have long been considered the region’s greatest strengths. Through the workshops stakeholders highlighted a range of other factors equal to or stronger than these assets.

Connectivity to national and international markets for people and goods is a strength, as is close access to the large market of Sydney. We are a university city with well-established strengths in engineering and health. Our industrial heritage and history as makers means we have a highly-skilled and productive workforce.

CLI: Newcastle and the Hunter region are blessed with great natural beauty, a visible and intact sense of history, a highly regarded wine district and a substantial tourism industry.

What challenges did the workshop identify?

KR: A consistent message is the importance of collaborating and establishing ‘one voice’. Also finding the right balance between respecting our heritage of an industrial/resources-based economy and the opportunities for development will take some deep thinking.

One of the biggest challenges that stakeholders identified is around the value the local community places on itself and the region. Locals are our greatest advocates, so for this reason we need to pitch to ourselves first.

CLI: Where to next?

KR: The region possesses many great assets, top of which is a group of leaders and stakeholders who recognise the need for urgent change and are motivated to make it happen.

The project will hinge on collaboration and unified representation across sectors. Planning and engagement are continuing and working towards delivery of an initial response at the next Second Cities Symposium in October 2019.

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Sydney, NSW 2000, Australia

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