Bernard Salt’s Population Growth Report 2007 for KPMG (I could not yet find an online version) makes interesting reading. Melbourne has joined the ranks of Australia’s fastest growing capital cities with nearly double the growth rate of Sydney and close to the growth rates of boom cities like Perth and Brisbane. But the Queensland coastline still holds the centres with maximum population growth – Cairns in particular is growing at twice the rate of Brisbane.
With current growth rates Melbourne would be the largest city in Australia in 20 years – returning Melbourne to its 19th century status as Australia’s largest and most popular city. Of course these projections presuppose no change in relative housing costs which would be quite unrealistic.
Around Australia the main competition for rapidly growing coastal areas and for 'sea changers' comes from city centres. The trend is strong everywhere but particularly in Melbourne and Brisbane. Young couples are living in apartments close to city centres to minimise their commuting costs.
The standout area is Sydney where some municipalities (Campbelltown, Fairfield) actually lost people as young adults leave older parents to live elsewhere. Indeed Sydney’s centre continues to grow while its periphery is shedding people.
The experience Salt identifies correlates with quite a bit of experience. Melbourne property prices grew strongly last year while Sydney prices did not. Still Sydney property prices remain very high. I was struck by this headline in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday while visiting - over the past year 570 government grants for first home buyers were given to people buying $1 million plus valued properties – a 44% increase over the previous year. It is a stunning figure.
My subjective feeling (no real evidence) is that Sydney housing on average is of higher quality than Melbourne's - houses in Sydney have often been renovated several times and the physical beauty of Sydney as an urban setting is not arguable. Melbournians gloat about their beautiful gardens but Sydney, with its milder climate, has some of the best urban gardens I have seen anywhere.
My main objection to Sydney as a place to live, apart from housing costs, is the cost of making journeys by road. A visit to the local shopping centre can be a congested nightmare in many suburbs. My impression of the train and bus services in the city are however generally very positive. The exception that has impacted on me is on the far north side areas where public transport is almost non-existent late in the evening. On the other hand if I owned a house at Palm Beach I probably wouldn't ever want to leave and would presumably have enough money that I could afford not to do so!