Big cities snubbed in favour of regions in a post-COVID world

By Erinna Giblin

Many capital city dwellers lately, especially those in Melbourne, have likely considered giving up city life in favour of making a tree or sea change out to Australia’s regional areas. 

It’s clear 2020 has been a time of rapid change and growing uncertainty in light of the health crisis and recession, with Victorians living through varying stages of lockdown and the rest of the states encountering their own challenges with physical distancing. It’s no wonder that getting out of the city has become a popular thought amongst many Australians.

However, it’s not simply the virus that is making capital cities less popular, a recent study shows the change has actually been a long time coming.

Regions along Australia’s beautiful coastline, such as Newcastle in NSW are popular with movers. Source: Supplied

The recently-released Big Movers Report, conducted by the Regional Australia Institute, which mapped the movement of people between 2011 and 2016 through census data, shows that Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide have all steadily been losing more people than they have gained from regional areas.

Sydney was the biggest loser, with 64,756 abandoning Australia’s most populous city, followed by 21,609 from Melbourne and 1,041 from Adelaide. Brisbane gained 15,597 new residents from regional areas.

  • With Australians increasingly eager to start travelling again – and domestic holidays the big trend for this spring and summer –  the Go And Get It campaign encourages safe domestic tourism of whatever sort you can manage, from day outings to long road trips.

Where are the most popular non-capital cities for movers?

Although the report found that 178,961 regional movers headed to capital cities, 207,510 snubbed the likes of Sydney and Melbourne and instead moved to another regional location.

Overall, the regions gained 65,204 new residents over the five-year period, with areas like the Gold Coast (24,714), Newcastle (13,619) and the Sunshine Coast (13,359) the top three regions attracting movers over that period.

A further survey within the report found that 80% of respondents who were already living regionally wanted to stay, rather than move to a capital city.

Australian movers are looking to the regions as fresh data from shows. Source: Supplied

The most popular regional suburbs for August were mostly located in Queensland, according to new data.

What’s behind regional Australia’s rise in popularity?

While you might think that tree and sea changes are all about escaping the hustle and bustle of city life in favour of a laid-back rural lifestyle, milking cows and watching the grass grow, the reality is that these geographic choices are based on a clear set of practicalities.

Housing affordability, lifestyle choices and rapid career advancement were noted in the report as the top reasons why people chose to move to or stay in regional areas.

Regional lifestyles are hard to beat

Executive manager of economic research at Cameron Kusher said larger regional cities such as Newcastle, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast have been popular for some time.

“Each of these three regions are large and independent but still close to large capital cities. They also have their own airports so interstate access is quite easy in comparison to more remote regions,” Mr Kusher said.

“Newcastle has the benefit of being much more affordable than Sydney while Queensland is the epicentre of interstate migration. Although housing on ‘The Coasts’ is more expensive than in Brisbane, it is substantially cheaper than Sydney or Melbourne.

“While these are all independent cities, they remain close enough to the major capital cities to commute if need be and they enjoy good local services and schools.”

There’s a multitude of reasons for movers to be considering regional centres over capital cities, including great housing stock. Source: Supplied

Accommodation costs are getting higher in capital cities

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced workplaces to look at the way people work and reconsider the need for people to be physically present in an office as a requirement to take up jobs based in the city.

This has led to a huge increase in the number of people now considering working from home, either part time or full time, as a permanent option.

Affordability is increasingly a factor with figures released in early September confirming that the Australian economy has shrunk by a whopping 7% amid the health crisis. It’s now more likely than ever that Australians will be looking at ways to bring down their household costs.

With average Sydney rents the highest in the country, it’s no surprise that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for would-be residents to imagine a life in the Harbour City.

Universities a determining factor for younger movers

Tenants are largely drawn to amenities such as universities over almost all else, so by comparing the cost of living in Sydney to other areas it’s easy to understand the appeal of the regions.

Looking at popular rental suburbs such as  Waterloo, home to  Sydney’s most popular rental street and located between Sydney University, University of NSW and UTS, the median rent is $700.

When compared to a similarly-placed suburb in Newcastle, adjacent to the University of Newcastle, the rents are dramatically less. In  Mayfield WestWaratah West and  Birmingham Gardens, all of which surround the university, the average rent between the three suburbs is $422.

While capital city universities remain the preferred choice for the majority of students in Australia, the University of Wollongong has for the first time been included in the  list of top Australian Universities for 2021, rising a massive 16 places since last year’s list. Nearby  North Wollongong has a median weekly rent of $525 and is also home to stunning North Beach.

Originally published as Big cities snubbed in favour of regions in a post-COVID world



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