COAST SET FOR RIDE OF ITS LIFE
Written on the 13 February 2015 by Nick Nichols
LOCK in your seat belt Gold Coast, because the next 35 years will be the ride of your life.
That's the view of demographer Bernard Salt, whose vision of Australia's tourism capital might both upset hardened greenies and fire up the imagination of the city's entrepreneurs at the same time.
Salt, a KPMG partner enlisted by the Gold Coast City Council to draft a roadmap to 2050 for the city, has forecast population will double in the next 35 years to a staggering 1.2 million.
With two-thirds of that growth set to occur in the existing urban footprint, Salt has forecast a high-density future for the Gold Coast, but also he warns that infrastructure must keep up to service the 2300,000 new dwellings needed to house these people.
He also predicts that the next growth phase will finally set the Gold Coast on the path to becoming a true metropolis, with city-changing projects such as the cruise ship terminal a near certainty even if the current proposal is wiped by an incoming Labor government.
"In 2050 I see a city of metropolitan scale, a city globally connected, a diverse economy and places of opportunity for next-generation businesses," says Salt, co-author of the report titled Beyond the Horizon.
"I see a place that is famous for more than just surf, sand and beaches. I see a place where knowledge workers can gravitate to."
With the prospect of another city the size of the Gold Coast piggy-backed onto the existing city footprint over the next 35 years, Salt says the infrastructure challenges will be huge - the biggest being to ensure north-south transport is upgraded, including light rail (pictured right) and heavy rail extended to Coolangatta.
"In order to deliver quality of life you need world best practices in transport," Salt says. "There will be added pressure on the north-south traffic flows and if you don't achieve that then the city will break down into precincts."
However, the pay-off from the population boom will be a more robust and diverse economic base, although Salt says this can only be achieved through political will and the Gold Coast's inherent entrepreneurial spirit.
And Salt says there is plenty of that, stretching back as far as 1966 when 11 per cent of the city's working population was self-employed - double the national average. Today the figure is closer to 20 per cent.
"If ever there was a city that can claim to be entrepreneurial it's the Gold Coast. The politics of the Gold Coast is entrepreneurial. It's a culture that separates itself from other cities."
Salt says the next phase of growth will be unlike anything witnessed over the past 50 years.
"This is a city that has been willed into existence by the Australian people and willed into existence because of the fundamental demand for lifestyle, leisure and retirement - everything the Gold Coast is famous for," he says.
"The Australian people don't want a city of 1.2 million people on the Australian continent based solely on lifestyle, retirement and leisure activities. It's fine to project the Gold Coast from 20,000 people to 600,000, but the next 600,000 requires greater depth and greater opportunity."
Salt sees the theme park economy making way for knowledge jobs with fatter pay packets, and enhanced opportunities in education, research and healthcare. These are the jobs that have driven the apartment boom in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, catering for what he calls the affluent "hipster" culture.
Salt says the Gold Coast will offer the best opportunities for businesses and investors of any city "of scale" in the next 35 years.
"The Gold Coast's connectivity with international destinations through the Coolangatta airport puts it ahead of the game compared with other regional cities in particular, but also puts it on a level footing with major cities in Australia. This is critical to the business opportunities of the future."
He also rejects Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which forecast Perth as the growth city of the future. Salt says the long-term growth averages for Perth do not support this forecast.
"The Gold Coast offers the best opportunity for growth and development over the next 30 to 40 years," says Salt.
"If you're in building, construction, finance or retail, then this is the space you want to be in.
"By my calculation, the Gold Coast will require an extra 35 secondary schools over the next 35 years to accommodate this growth. There will be a skewed growth towards the teenage and youth population. Education must be part of the future story of the Gold Coast for infrastructure and cultural implications.
"The main game is the number of baby boomers pushing beyond the age of 65. Lifestyle, superannuation planning and financial planning are all opportunities moving forward along with health and well-being."
International students are expected to more than double from 23,000 to 55,000 by 2050 as the Gold Coast lifts student numbers closer to capital city averages of 50 per 1000 residents. The figure is currently sitting at 41.
"If the Gold Coast starts to take on the hue, the culture, the thinking of a major capital city that is the evolutionary process we will see going forward. The Gold Coast has a natural advantage demographically in education and health. It has extraordinary connectivity, so put all of that together and you start to get a vision of the future."
Salt warns that the way forward will be "hard" and "ambitious".
"There will be people who will be sceptical in Melbourne and Sydney. There are people who dismiss the Gold Coast as being overly ambitious for wanting to move into the knowledge sector. But the benefits are there for the next generation if you can achieve it."
Salt sees the next phase of growth also smoothing out the city's boom-bust cycles of the past 50 years, setting the Gold Coast up to mirror the growth of major lifestyle regions in the US such as Miami (pictured left), Phoenix and Portland.
Phoenix has grown from a population of 200,000 at the end of World War II to 4.5 million. A decision in 1948 by Motorola to move its research and development centre to Phoenix helped drive that growth.
"I think the Gold Coast can compete for footloose businesses - where management can choose where they want to set up head office based on lifestyle. The Gold Coast should be targeting back-office operations for financial institutions, whether banks or insurance companies, and there should be greater representation to attract sporting companies or organisations, like the Australian Institute of Sport swimming team.
"If the Gold Coast is really going to do this it will need its own style. You're never going to get BHP to come out of Melbourne, but what back-office operations can you compete for? These companies can be attracted if you build and project your brand to the opportunities.
"It's taken 30, 40 or 50 years to get the health facilities on the Gold Coast to world-class surgical standards, but there's another level that Melbourne and Sydney have that you're not getting a look in - and that's research schools.
"It adds a gravitas. We need to deliver this place credibility in the space that's going to deliver prosperity and job diversity in the future."
Salt has also called for the Gold Coast to embrace the "MONA effect", referring to the Museum of Old and New Art which he says "absolutely transformed Hobart".
"Hobart was not even on the vision of people in Melbourne or Sydney, let alone Brisbane, then along comes an iconic piece of infrastructure like that and suddenly it's a must-see destination. Of course the culture of Hobart has changed as a consequence. I want to see a MONA effect applied to the Gold Coast - not necessarily new and contemporary arts, but that may well be part of the story.
"Signature developments are critical and can change perceptions of a city. MONA changed mainland Australia's perception of Hobart. The new cultural precinct proposed will change Australians' view of the Gold Coast. The cruise ship terminal also will change Australian's view of the Gold Coast - all will add to a sense that this is a city on the move."
Salt believes the cruise ship terminal will remain on the infrastructure agenda regardless of the outcome of the current $6.5 billion proposal by ASF Consortium (a proposed render pictured right).
"Even if the cruise ship terminal wasn't delivered in the short term, in the medium term and longer term it is these sorts of projects that I think will make a difference to the Gold Coast.
"The history of the Gold Coast is a history of ups and downs. You can't get dispirited by a short-term setback. Look at the horizon, look beyond the horizon. This is a city on the move. It's demonstrated that for the last 60 years. It will continue to be a place on the move over the next 60 years or so. This is a place of opportunity for people of vision and people of confidence in the city."
Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate has welcomed Salt's findings which he says offer a way forward to develop a sustainable future for the city.
"Our city is becoming a mature city economically and Bernard Salt has demonstrated that Australians are voting with their feet and coming here for our lifestyle," Tate says.
"But our economic base has to be diversified, which includes education, health and the professional sector. We have the strategy now, but the challenge is to put that strategy to work."
Meanwhile, Salt also has dealt a veiled swipe at the state government's failure to support the Gold Coast in the aftermath of the GFC. He says his home town of Geelong, hit recently by the closures of major employers Shell, Alcoa and Ford, has been buoyed by the relocation of government departments to the city. Salt says it was "political response" to tough times being faced by Geelong.
"The GFC hit the Gold Coast and it's death by a thousand cuts. I think there is an argument that the Gold Coast could be more fortunate in government relocations going forward."
Salt will be delivering his findings in the Beyond the Horizon report in a national roadshow to Brisbane, Sydney Melbourne and Canberra, as well as the Middle East and China.
Author: Nick Nichols