Six tips for country towns to cope with influx from the cities

Six tips for country towns to cope with influx from the cities

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New housing estates are already popping up in the country which appear to mimic those in the city.

New housing estates are already popping up in the country which appear to mimic those in the city.

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An experienced urban planner has some suggestions for country towns welcoming their new arrivals from the city.

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An experienced urban planner has some suggestions for country towns welcoming their new arrivals from the city.

Key among them is for municipal councils not to allow developments in the same way as suburbs on the outskirts of metropolitan cities.

"Developers and planners must ensure they maintain the character and sense of place in these towns and villages, or face local community backlash and lose the essence of what makes those towns so attractive in the first place," Mike Day from national urban planning and design company Hatch RobertsDay said.

Mr Day has joined others in predicting the trend of city people moving to the country will continue after the pandemic is over.

Real estate agents are already saying much of the available "stock" of suitable properties in country areas has already been snapped up.

Developers are already eyeing off the opportunities to offer house and land packages in regional areas.

Recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows regional Australia was already growing fast before the worst of the lockdowns.

More than 86,000 people moved to regional Australia in the 2019-2020 financial year, according to the ABS.

In many areas, particularly those within commuting distance of the cities, the growth rate is higher than the cities - the first time that has happened for more than a decade.

Mr Day said the work-from-home trend and affordable housing will see even more people leave the cities.

He said this sudden population growth risks regional areas expanding in the form of conventional suburban subdivisions.

He has some tips on how country towns might retain their heritage, character and unique features even as they evolve and cater for new arrivals.

MORE READING: City to country exodus may be permanent, expert says.

"Regional towns are accommodating the sea- and tree-changers as more Australians are attracted to improved work-life balance, lower living costs, access to open spaces, nature and a slower pace of life in regional areas," he said.

"Many find they don't need to live near metropolitan city centres and pay high living and commuting costs if they can work remotely.

"This will require our regional towns to cater for the increased demand."

Mr Day said it was common for planning approval for projects to be refused or heavily amended when community resistance is high.

"Regional residents are closely connected to their towns and are sensitive to change. These towns are often characterised by heritage buildings, compact mini main streets, large open spaces and gardens, and low-density housing - and residents want to maintain these aspects that make the town special in the first place.

"For this reason, there is nearly always more pushback from regional communities than in new suburbs, which is why it is essential to seek community input early in any planning and development process."

Experienced urban planner Mike Day has six tips to help regionals areas cope with the city exodus.

Experienced urban planner Mike Day has six tips to help regionals areas cope with the city exodus.

Mr Day has six tips for councils, developers and planners.

1. Councils could develop building codes and guidelines which reflect and respect their distinctive local settings. Developers and planners should respect a town's character by integrating complementary developments into the existing urban pattern rather than introducing conventional suburban subdivision patterns and built form.

2. Engage and consult early with the community. Local residents are inevitably 'local experts' that have travelled extensively. When they are involved early in the planning process they can provide feedback and advise the changes they want to see to create a town they are proud of and will love to continue calling home. Councils and planners can get meaningful input from the community through engaging with residents, planning design forums where the community and stakeholders explore solutions and design ideas through interactive workshops, and social media. By capturing residents' feedback, designers and planners can ensure the community's views are reflected in the design and development of any future projects.

3. Create jobs for the local community. Creation of mixed-use neighbourhoods or business hubs and Government projects will attract business and work opportunities for local residents.

4. Reinforce and expand existing walkable neighbourhoods. Compact, mixed-use, walkable neighbourhoods provide opportunities for social connection and a reduced reliance on cars. With remote working becoming more popular, living in closer proximity to local amenities can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and will also foster a stronger community and sense of belonging, particularly among new residents moving from major cities.

5. Provide housing diversity. Communities that combine single dwelling homes, townhouses, apartments, and specialised housing such as seniors housing integrated with the township, enables ageing in place and attracts residents of all ages and incomes. Regional communities are receptive to diverse housing options if they maintain the essence and unique character of their townships.

6. Maintain community engagement in perpetuity. Councils, planners and developers must get feedback from the community at all stages of planning and development. Interactive mapping and community forums provide locals with the opportunity to voice their opinions and achieve built form outcomes they feel meet local needs. Ongoing community input on regional projects will ensure the critical attributes of the town is retained.

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