A lack of infrastructure in some of Australia’s fastest-growing suburbs is putting pressure on families amid a growing cost of living crisis.
Blacktown in Sydney’s northwest is one of a number of suburbs expected to swell as many families are priced out of Sydney’s inner suburbs.
The local government area’s population – NSW’s largest – is forecast to balloon to more than 560,000 by 2050, having already surpassed Canberra in size.
Riverstone MP Warren Kirby said families had been lured to the area on Sydney’s northwest fringe with the promise of schools and parks.
The local business chamber president believed many of those promises had not been kept amid an “overshoot” in population growth.
“There is a ripple effect going all the way through the community,” Mr Kirby said.
“We have areas that were going to have 500 homes; instead, there’s 1000 going in.
“The road infrastructure isn’t suitable to cope. The school infrastructure isn’t suitable to cope.
“The biggest outcry is for parks because people here simply do not have yards for kids to play in.
“These families don’t have access to green space to be able to go walking around with their kids.”
Mr Kirby’s election in March came as a shock to many after more than a decade of Liberal leadership in Riverstone.
Since then, his first priority has been addressing the oversaturated schools, all but one of which – he claims – are overcapacity.
Among them is The Ponds High School, which became infamous for installing more than 30 demountable classrooms.
Jagpreet Singh and partner Mandip Kaur moved into The Ponds area in 2020, the day the country was placed into Covid lockdowns.
As a result, the couple said they were unable to visit the school they planned on sending their six-year-old children Jasmine and Raasher.
They were shocked to discover that the school was “jam-packed” with demountable classrooms which Mr Sign said impacted his kids learning.
“We didn’t get the whole reality at the time when we moved in because there were Covid limitations,” he said.
“When we went in, we realised there were too many kids crammed into the school.
“There are also parents coming in from Schofields and other areas because they don’t have schools there.
“The government is building temporary schools at Tallawong, but these are still growing areas.”
Ms Kaur said another issue for the family was transport, with residents flooding the commuter carparks at Schofields and Tallawong stations.
If the she didn’t arrive before 7.30am, Ms Kour said she would be unable to find parking and often would have to drive to find another station.
“For a young family, there are positives here; very good suburb to work in,” Mr Singh said.
“But, only if you have nice family support. If not, its very hard to have a nice work-life balance.
“There needs to be less stress in the schools. If not, then definitely its going to make things worse and people will move out.”
Mr Kirby warned that the infrastructure crisis, including school oversaturation, was already causing “social consequences”.
“If you talk to the Northwest Community Service, the incidences of domestic violence are outstripping the population growth targets,” he said.
“People are already overextending themselves on a mortgage and there‘s no outlet valve for people to go to a park or take a bit of downtime.
“That’s creating a pressure cooker for people who are mortgage stressed and struggling to keep up with the cost of living.”
In the long term, Mr Kirby warned that families who flooded the area with promises of a family lifestyle would just “pick up and move again”.
The issue isn’t unique to Sydney, as cities around the country grapple with population growth amid ongoing housing and cost-of-living crises.
In Canberra, the Molonglo Valley – a strip of land destroyed in the 2003 bushfires – was estimated to grow to 50,000 by 2050.
The ACT government has since revised those estimates, with the region forecast to balloon to a whopping 86,000.
Liberal MLA Ed Cocks said there lacked adequate planning to cope with that influx amid concerns also about social consequences.
“There is a very different need for infrastructure and services to service that sort of population size,” Mr Cocks said.
“If you don‘t have the facilities and services you need in the area, you have to get in your car and you have to drive somewhere else to get it.
“That means that people are stuck spending less time with their family. They have less time enjoying life and more time stuck in a car.”
Mr Cocks has helped lead a campaign urging for the construction of a town centre in the Molonglo Valley area since early-2023.
Under the vision, a town centre would be erected to serve as a community and local business hub akin to neighbouring suburbs.
Mr Cocks said it was “unclear” why the government had not invested in a town centre, claiming it would relieve stress on nearby areas.
“If you don‘t get the infrastructure right – if you don’t plan ahead and start with the end in mind – there are long-term negatives,” he said.
“People start to choose somewhere else to go and live because they’ve got to drive an extra 20 minutes to get somebody to do things.”
Both Mr Kirby and Mr Cocks warned that a lack of investment in localised police and emergency services was an issues.
Mr Cocks claimed locals had also been left wanting with work yet to get on the John Gorton Drive bridge.
The $178m project is aimed at replacing a 100-year-bridge and would connect housing developments on either side of the Murrumbidgee River.
According to the ACT government, the project is still in the conceptual phase, with work to wrap up by the end of 2025.