LAKE Macquarie's north-west is experiencing unprecedented growth with more than 5000 residential lots across a dozen subdivisions either built on, sold, marked out or awaiting approval.
The north-west area has long been earmarked to accommodate population growth in the Lower Hunter and significant development has already occurred in suburbs like Cameron Park.
But a new wave of subdivisions are emerging on the fringes of existing residential areas, pushing the city's urban sprawl into previously dense bush land or filling in gaps between suburbs.
A Newcastle Herald analysis of an area from Fennell Bay to Minmi has revealed the extent of developments already underway or in various stages of planning.
Major subdivisions are in place or proposed for Edgeworth, Cameron Park, West Wallsend, Minmi, Boolaroo, Teralba and Fennell Bay.
The latest plans to emerge, a 381-lot subdivision in Edgeworth, went on exhibition with Lake Macquarie City Council late last month.
A development application for the project - the final stage of Roche Group's Cameron Grove Estate, which has evolved over the past decade and will eventually incorporate about 2000 dwellings - was submitted in July.
The $27 million development on George Booth Drive, dubbed Cameron Grove South, will allow for low and medium density residential housing if approved.
The 51-hectare site, which was rezoned earlier this year, is opposite the under-construction Cameron Park Plaza.
The plaza includes a Woolworths supermarket, and is being built to serve thousands of residents that have moved into hundreds of homes in Cameron Park and nearby areas in recent years.
Down the road in West Wallsend, Appletree Grove Estate is about 70 per cent complete. The 404-lot subdivision hugs George Booth Drive and the existing residential area of the suburb.
While Cameron Grove South is in the pipeline, multiple other developments are springing up on the northern side of Edgeworth, including a 112-lot subdivision on Neilson Street already under construction.
The McCloy Group's nearby Brush Creek Estate, which will eventually feature more than 200 lots, has received partial approval. Alongside it, a 168-lot subdivision known as the Twin Rivers development is under assessment by the council.
Anita Hugo, regional director of the Property Council of Australia, says north-west Lake Macquarie is proving popular with both buyers and developers because "there is suitable land available at the right price".
"It is well connected to other areas in Greater Newcastle and the region," she said.
"The strength of our economy bodes well for investment in the region and good social infrastructure and employment opportunities are driving demand for houses and sites."
Ms Hugo said there was a mix of owner-occupiers and investors seeking land to build, or buying new houses.
"This is varied, with younger couples and families, some who are wanting to build for the first time and more recently some downsizers who are looking for homes that are more suitable for their needs," she said.
"Investors from outside the region are attracted to areas that provide good access, economic growth and opportunity at more competitive prices."
In its visionary planning document, Imagine Lake Mac: 2050 and Beyond, Lake Macquarie council identifies the "central and accessible location" of the North West Growth Area as an "opportunity to generate jobs, housing, and services to the broader region".
Half of the area, west of Teralba to the M1, is labelled as an investigation area for "future growth".
The other half, which includes suburbs like Cardiff, Glendale, Edgeworth, Cameron Park and West Wallsend, is identified for "urban intensification".
The guiding planning document set a target of 1800 more jobs in the catalyst area by 2036. It also set a target of 3700 extra dwellings, part of the 13,700 the Lake Macquarie local government area is listed to accommodate.
Lake Macquarie mayor Kay Fraser said the catalyst area had potential to "drive change and investment in the broader north-west".
"Its proximity to transport, location to established business and industrial areas, as well as a diversity of options for housing supply provides a range of economic growth opportunities for our city and the Hunter," she said.
"We've seen an amazing increase in the number of residential developments in recent years and many young families have already moved to the area."
Cobey West, 26, and her husband Tony, 27, were among the first to move into the 495-lot Billy's Lookout Estate about three years ago.
They were eager to settle in the area, as Ms West grew up in Teralba, but were looking at buying a house around Speers Point before deciding to purchase land and build.
"We kept quite an eye on it when we heard about it, and when it got released we swooped in. We bought land in the first section," she said.
The duo could not be happier living in the area.
"We love the lake and how close we are to it and the local amenities," Ms West said.
"The closeness to the M1 as well, is obviously very attractive, and just the general feel that you can drive 10 minutes and you're at a shopping centre or a park, and 25 minutes to the beach. You've got the train station.
"It's just a really central point to live, really."
A young couple planning to soon have children, the Wests identified the area with the future in mind. Ms West said the "community feel" of a new estate was a big attraction in deciding where to live and raise children.
She said the couple had no issues with infrastructure at the moment and Teralba was well served with nearby schools and services, but the predicted population growth in the broader north-west was somewhat of a concern.
"My only concern is that obviously if you grow a population, you need to grow amenities and the local services around it," she said. "Provided those things grow with the population, I think it's a great opportunity."
State MP Sonia Hornery, whose Wallsend electorate covers the tip of the north-west, said infrastructure and services were, in some cases, failing to keep up with development.
She said Newcastle Road, Lookout Road and Lake Road were "at capacity", and "the areas where these new homes are going have very limited public transport, so new residents are forced to use their cars to get anywhere".
One of the largest housing developments planned is in the Wallsend electorate, across Fletcher and Minmi.
While two stages comprising 371 lots were approved in recent years, along with a 594-lot stage in nearby Cameron Park, parts of Winten Group's mega development are in dispute in the Land and Environment Court - a 1063-lot stage in Lake Macquarie LGA, and a 948-lot stage in Newcastle LGA.
Ms Hornery said such growth in the area could justify the formation of a new western suburbs police command, and would definitely require a new high school.
"We will need a new high school to cope with an increased population and with that we will need all of the necessary public transport and shared pathways to assist students in getting to and from school," she said.
"Governments of all persuasions need to look at, and plan better for population increases. We need our leaders to be visionary and put in place infrastructure that can cope for the future increases. We can't just play catch up."
Geoff Rock, head of the Urban Development Institute of Australia's Hunter chapter, said the amount of development showed the importance of projects like the Glendale transport interchange and freight rail bypass from Fassifern to Hexham, which is at risk of losing a possible alignment if land continues to be developed.
He said the chapter was involved in an urban development program committee, run by the state government, which identifies developments and the "infrastructure blockages preventing supply from coming online".
Mr Rock said 40 per cent of the total lots planned for the north-west would not eventuate without a critical intersection upgrade on Newcastle Link Road into Winten Group's land.
The NSW government wants the developer to pay for the upgrade, but Mr Rock said the government needed to start planning for such strategic infrastructure.
"[Roads and Maritime Services] just replaced the roundabout at the end of the M1 there at Beresfield, and that was a $34 million project," he said. "The link road one will be bigger than that.
"No developer could afford to pay for that."
Other housing developments on the horizon include an approved 115-lot subdivision on land near Munibung Hill in Speers Point; the 740-lot Green Capital Group development in Boolaroo, which is part sold already but mostly being contested in the LEC; and Landcom's plans to rezone land in Fennell Bay for a 565-lot development.
A number of commercial projects are set to change the north-west as well, including BlackRock Motor Park at Wakefield and Glencore's site at Teralba earmarked for industrial development.
The state government also owns old BHP land of more than 850 hectares on both sides of the M1 near Killingworth and Barnsley, but it is understood there are no immediate plans for the land.