Switch on relocation grant panned by Wollongong Mayor

Windang Bridge had separated Shellharbour City Council area (top), which qualifies as a regional area, and metropolitan Wollongong City Council.

Windang Bridge had separated Shellharbour City Council area (top), which qualifies as a regional area, and metropolitan Wollongong City Council.

Wollongong residents keen for a tree-change will be able to move to regional NSW - and collect a $7000 cash incentive - with more ease, after the state government halved the distance rule for its regional relocation scheme.

Families will only need to move 50 kilometres, instead of the previous 100 kilometres, when they move from "metropolitan" areas such as Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong to collect the grant - provided they do not move to a neighbouring council area.

It is one of many changes the state government has made to the underperforming scheme in recent years, after a loophole initially allowed people to claim the cash incentive for moving a matter of kilometres.

Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery criticised the move, describing the scheme as "window dressing", which did nothing to solve unemployment.

"This issue is not so much the incentive to move, but where are the jobs to be found?" he said.

"What are they going to move to?

"To my way of thinking [this scheme] is not the answer, the answer is that we need to stimulate the manufacturing industry and create job opportunities.

‘‘For those who do have the opportunity to relocate, good on them, they get the opportunity for some support, but really I don’t think it does much to address the unemployment rate and unemployment issues.’’

Under the original scheme, two Illawarra households moved less than two kilometres – from Windang to Lake Illawarra and from Haywards Bay to Albion Park Rail – while 52 families moved from Wollongong to Shellharbour during the scheme’s first 15 months.

In 2013, the government announced grant recipients would need to move at least 100kilometres away, which it said would stop any ‘‘misuse of the schemes in areas that border metropolitan and regional boundaries’’.

It was soon labelled as ‘‘a dud’’ by the NSW opposition due to the poor take-up rate.

The program was an election promise designed to boost the population of regional towns, but has failed to meet a target of 40,000 families over four years.

More than $2.2million remains unspent after only 1166 grants were given to families opting for a tree-change this financial year. As a part of the scheme, skilled workers who move to the country for work will be eligible for a $10,000 grant.

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