Shellharbour City appears set to reap the benefits of being officially classified as a regional area, but there’s no such luck yet for Wollongong.
On Friday, Parliamentary Secretary for the Illawarra and Kiama MP Gareth Ward announced Shellharbour will be eligible to apply for a share in the state government’s $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund.
“The other thing I can announce is we have specifically ring-fenced under the Stronger Country Communities Fund, $2.1 million specifically for Shellharbour to apply for,” Mr Ward said.
Shellharbour Mayor Marianne Saliba said she had been lobbying for recognition as a region for almost 12 months.
“There are many opportunities for us now to apply for funding that wasn’t available to us in the past,” she said.
While Mr Ward said Shellharbour is “definitely part of regional areas”, he was non-committal regarding any potential push for Wollongong to be similarly re-classified.
“Wollongong receives so many funds for so many projects, and we’ll continue to deliver record sums,” he said.
“I think Wollongong and Newcastle are distinctly different and should be treated as different.”
The topic of whether the Illawarra meets the criteria for “regional” status has been contentious in recent times.
During Question Time in March, the state’s deputy premier John Barilaro was asked by fellow Nationals MP Kevin Humphries what benefits cash from the sale of the Snowy Hydro would bring the “real regional NSW”.
The question followed an earlier uproar from local Labor MPs over news that Wollongong and Shellharbour would not be eligible for a share in a $4 billion regional infrastructure fund, as they are not classified as regional by Mr Barilaro’s office.
“Yes there is a region called the Illawarra … but that doesn’t make it regional,” Mr Barilaro said at the time.
Mr Ward said the $2 million committed under Stronger Country Communities will go to selected projects that promise to enhance the attractiveness of Shellharbour, such as better parks, local sports facilities or community infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Member for Wollongong Paul Scully slammed the redefinition.
“Let’s be very clear: the Berejikilan Government has only redefined the ‘Illawarra’ to include Shellharbour local government area for one reason – to include Albion Park, which is located in the Kiama electorate,” he said.
“This is all about solving a political problem for Mr Ward rather than addressing a policy inconsistency.
“Wollongong LGA is now the biggest centre of the Illawarra and it has been redefined out of the region for blatant political purposes.”
Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery welcomed the announcement that Shellharbour City Council is now considered regional and eligible to access the $1.3 billion Regional Growth Fund.
However, he expressed his disappointment that Wollongong and Newcastle are excluded from this.
“Wollongong services the Illawarra region and beyond, but it is not considered to be regional by the state government,” he said.
“I am concerned that the two major regional centres in the State – Wollongong and Newcastle – are unable to access the Regional Growth Fund.”