New report proposes 'Sandstone Mega-region' for NSW

The Committee for Sydney has released a new report outlining a proposal for a ‘mega-region’ stretching from Newcastle to Wollongong through Western Sydney that could become “a global economic powerhouse of 10million people, linked together by fast rail, world-class industries and major trade points”.

The report, The Sandstone Mega-Region: uniting Newcastle – the Central Coast – Sydney – Wollongong, was the result of a year-long investigation by a panel of experts into better links between Greater Sydney and surrounding regional cities.

The report highlights that the Sandstone mega-region makes up over 70% of the NSW population and nearly 25% of the national population. It is home to three major trade ports that act as gateways to the world, including Port Botany, NSW’s largest container port, which contributes $3.2 billion to Gross State Product.

The six cities are also serviced by the 1,588 km-long passenger rail network of NSW and three, soon to be four, passenger service airports; Newcastle Airport and the Illawarra Regional Airport, Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport, and in 2026, the Western Sydney Airport at Badgerys Creek. Within the region, there are eight universities, six of which are ranked among QS’s top 250 universities worldwide, and two are within the top 50 universities.

The report also calls on NSW Government to introduce a network of one-hour or less heavy rail connections between cities within the mega-region and argues that building new housing across the rail corridor will help to take pressure off the market in Sydney.

The study argues that an additional 40,000 dwellings could be built across NSW by opening up land across rail corridors and found that with improved rail connections by 2036, this network could deliver over $75 billion of housing affordability improvements for Sydney.

In addition, while many of the people moving due to improved rail access would continue to work in Sydney, some new residents would switch to local jobs and help generate increased local economic activity.

Businesses would also gain agglomeration benefits from the improved access to Sydney. By 2036, there could be an additional 4,725 local jobs in Wollongong, 3,875 in Gosford and 3,225 in Newcastle because of improved rail access to Sydney.

Faster rail could also slash commuting times. For example, the current journey time from Newcastle to Parramatta could reduce from 153 minutes to 60 minutes; Wollongong to the Sydney CBD from 85 minutes to 60 minutes and Gosford to the Sydney CBD from 80 minutes to 40 minutes.

Crucially, this network could also create new direct links from Newcastle to Parramatta and from Wollongong to Campbelltown and Liverpool – creating new opportunities and reshaping the region.

The report argues that ‘off the shelf’ fast rail technology could improve connectivity between the six cities of the mega-region, as well as orientate Sydney towards its geographical centre of Parramatta.

Even a moderately fast rail network that reaches speeds of 200 km/h could connect Newcastle, the Central Coast and Wollongong with Sydney in 60 minutes or less. Along with broader city-shaping benefits, economic modelling indicates that such a scenario would improve housing affordability, accessibility to jobs, and regional employment throughout the mega-region.

The Commission on the Newcastle-Gosford-Sydney-Wollongong mega-region has been Chaired by Kyle Loades, former Chair of the NRMA and Professor Paul Wellings, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wollongong as Vice-Chair. A further 40 public and private sector organisations have been involved in the Commission.

The report is available here

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