A “Sandstone mega-region” of 10 million people has been proposed to stretch from Newcastle to Wollongong, linked by high-speed rail, industry and education.
A Committee for Sydney report, published on Tuesday, called for closer relationships between Newcastle, Central Coast, Wollongong and Greater Sydney.
The think tank’s report recommended that the NSW government immediately investigate fast rail, including “a 70-minute connection between Sydney and Newcastle [Broadmeadow station]”.
It also proposed improved links between Newcastle and Parramatta.
“For example, the current journey time from Newcastle [Broadmeadow] to Parramatta could reduce from 153 minutes to 60 minutes,” it said.
The Newcastle to Central Station rail journey would be reduced “from 150-to-180 minutes to 70 minutes,” the report said.
With faster trains, housing demand and business are forecast to improve in Newcastle, with 8000 additional dwellings and an extra 3225 jobs by 2036.
“Integration enables greater housing choice and accessibility to jobs, as well as agglomeration economies in which people and firms cluster together,” the report said.
Economic modelling had indicated that “even a moderately fast rail network that reaches speeds of 200 km/h” would “improve housing affordability, accessibility to jobs, and regional employment throughout the mega-region”.
Kyle Loades chaired a commission on the mega-region plan for the Committee for Sydney.
Mr Loades said NSW had “dynamic and diverse regional centres, but more could be done to realise their economic potential”.
Improved connections between Newcastle, Wollongong, Gosford and Greater Sydney “could create a world-class mega-region of 10 million people, cutting-edge jobs and high-quality services”.
“Faster and more integrated transport is the key. Speeding up travel times will make commuting quicker and easier, while creating the opportunity for more housing,” said Mr Loades, who is also Hunter Medical Research Institute chairman and a former NRMA boss.
Mr Loades added that the “potential is real” and opportunity was there to be grasped.
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said his organisation supported the idea in principle, but would look “closely at all details” if it progressed.
“The hard part is getting these things committed, funded and built,” Mr Hawes said.
Mr Hawes said a fast-train link between Newcastle and Sydney must be a “two-way street”, so to speak.
This meant Newcastle must not be seen as a dormitory suburb of Sydney, but a place where people come to do business.
The report said other mega-regions had been established in the world. One example was in Holland’s Randstad region, with links between Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
“With a population of 7.5 million people, and a GDP of €288 billion [AUS$441 billion], the Randstad has become one of the largest metropolitan regions in Europe,” it said.
The Pearl River Delta in South-East China was another example.
It included the cities of Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Dongguan and Foshan, which had been “at the forefront of China’s economic development for nearly 40 years”.
The commission’s vice chairman, Professor Paul Wellings, said mega-regions had been proven internationally to have economic and social benefits, without compromising historical and cultural identities of participant cities.
“Education will play a significant role in realising this vision,” Professor Wellings said.
He said collaboration between the eight universities in the sandstone mega-region, along with TAFE and other education providers, had “the potential to deliver far-reaching benefits in our rapidly evolving knowledge economy”.
The proposed mega-region’s name comes from the “sandstone foundations” that the cities share.