An ambitious plan to revitalise Darwin’s city centre and boost its ailing economy will see the Charles Darwin University moved from the suburbs to the CBD, as part of a new city deal worth $200 million.
- The deal is touted as the one to reverse Darwin’s fortunes
- The focus is on enlivening the CBD by bringing in 1,100 students to live, work, and study
- The NT will become an ideas lab for how to manage tropical living, says Prime Minister Scott Morrison
On Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Commonwealth and Northern Territory Governments would invest $200 million jointly into the deal, the centrepiece of which is the creation of a new educational and civic vertical campus in the heart of the city.
“It’s a very big deal for Darwin, it’s a very big deal for the Territory, and it’s a very big deal for Australia,” Mr Morrison said.
He said both levels of government, along with the Darwin Council, were united in investing in projects that would enliven the city.
The project would not just be a boost for construction work, but would be a “long-term, viable, sustaining driving force in the heart of the city of Darwin”, he said.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the deal was an investment in Darwin as the capital of northern Australia.
“We see Darwin as not near Asia, but in Asia,” he said.
“We have a vision for Darwin to service the wider region; we see our competition as Singapore, not Sydney.”
NT economy flagging
Darwin’s economy has flagged in recent years following the wind-down of the construction phase of the massive $40 billion Japanese-led Inpex Ichthys LNG project.
Numerous small businesses have found themselves struggling as the population contracts, and the city centre is dotted with vacant shopfronts that once housed international retail chains, restaurants, and even the city cinema.
In August, the NT Government announced it would pay southern Australians up to $15,000 to move to the Top End to work in “high priority” jobs in an effort to boost the population. Currently around 244,000 people call the Territory home.
According to the most recent CommSec State of the States report, the NT was third-ranked on economic growth but was trailing the nation on five other indicators: retail spending, investment, mixed home lending, population growth, and home building.
It had Australia’s lowest wage growth, and the second-highest unemployment rate.
Darwin’s deal, featuring $100 million from the Commonwealth, is smaller than that of comparable cities such as Launceston and Geelong.
When asked why, Mr Morrison said that “every city deal is different” and said funding differed for various projects in different locations.
He also said there was the possibility the North Australia Infrastructure Fund could contribute money.
‘The deal that will change Darwin’
Lord Mayor Kon Vatskalis said Darwin was the only Australian capital city without a university in the centre — the Charles Darwin University campus is located in the city’s northern suburbs, about 20 minutes from the CBD.
“This is the deal that will change Darwin,” he said.
The $200 million city deal will help fund:
- The creation of a new education and civic precinct, featuring a new university campus, and retail, commercial, and community spaces
- Construction of a new art gallery in State Square
- Cooler, greener streetscapes in public spaces
- A Larrakia cultural centre
- A CSIRO-led Urban Living Lab which will test and evaluate improvements in Darwin’s liveability, sustainability, and resilience
- The beginning of redevelopment of former naval fuel installation site at Stokes Hill
Federal Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population Alan Tudge said Darwin was home to 1 per cent of Australia’s entire population, but only 0.2 per cent of Australia’s international students.
He said the deal represented a huge opportunity to attract more international students to Darwin.
“That brings people but it also brings money,” he said.
Each international student injected about $44,000 each year into the local economy through education fees and living costs, he said.
“You’ll have 1,100 students there on a daily basis spilling out into the streets, purchasing food at the local cafes and restaurants, and enjoying life in Darwin and hopefully making it their home forever,” he said.
CDU vice-chancellor Simon Maddocks said the new campus would allow residents to interact not just with teaching and research facilities, but would provide galleries and exhibition spaces, bringing business students into contact with small businesses and enabling law students to more easily access the courts during their studies.
“Students are not only a part-time workforce for small business, but they’re also a significant customer base,” he said.
“These students are coming from high-density Asian cities; they like to live, work, and socialise in the one environment; they’re not used to having to travel long distances.
“If we’re going to compete [with northern neighbours] then this is essential.”
Darwin to become a model for tropical cities
Mr Morrison said the CSIRO-led Urban Living Lab, which is also part of the deal, would help make Darwin the prototype for how to run liveable cities in tropical areas all around the world.
“This is all about making Darwin a more competitive city,” he said.
He said Darwin was “one of the world’s great tropical cities”.
“What we’re looking at is the future of this city to be a leading light for other tropical cities around the world,” he said.
$5 million would be spent on a tropical city management process, greening the city, and head management — issues faced by tropical cities all over the world, Mr Morrison said.
Following the destruction from Cyclone Marcus in March and the loss of hundreds of trees across the city, it was predicted that Darwin’s high quota of asphalt and concrete could be creating heat islands, contributing to a rise in ambient temperature.
That would be significant for a city where the annual daily average is around 30 degrees Celsius.
Mr Vatskalis said the plan would invest in heat mitigation strategies to “find solutions for this hot city that’s getting hotter”.
Country Liberals Party opposition leader Gary Higgins welcomed the signing, saying Darwin was a city of untapped potential.
“Darwin has been crying out for action,” he said.
The agreement would also review the current airspace assessment process for buildings over 45 metres in the city, and the decentralisation of appropriate government workers, he said.
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