Wodonga, located in north-eastern Victoria on the bank of the Murray River, is the fastest growing regional city in the state – and it is easy to see why. The city exemplifies the best of what Australia’s regional areas have to offer. It combines the convenience of a metropolitan lifestyle with the appeal of regional living. It has a picturesque locale, and it’s close to the wine regions of North East Victoria. For these reasons and more, Wodonga has enjoyed unprecedented growth for the past couple decades, both in the residential and commercial spaces.
“We’re ready for growth, and we’re ready for investment,” says Mayor Mark Byatt.
Of the many things that make Wodonga unique, Mayor Byatt says location is near the top of the list. Wodonga is both easy to access, and surrounded by natural beauty. Beauty-wise, they are located at the tip of the Murray River, right next to Lake Hume, near the aforementioned wineries, as well as snowfields and mountains. “You couldn’t really ask for much more diversity as far as lifestyle and liveability than what we have,” Mayor Byatt says.
As far as ease of access goes, they are situated at the gateway into Victoria from southern New South Wales, and along the Hume Corridor – one of the busiest transport corridors in the country. They also have an airport and rail access, all of which is advantageous from an industry and business point of view. “For us to reach Melbourne, Canberra, or Sydney is not a very difficult chore,” says Mayor Byatt.
The rise of regional cities
Wodonga has a twin-city relationship with Albury, a major regional city that stands on the New South Wales side of the Murray River divide. For Albury-Wodonga, tourism is an important aspect of economic development – Mayor Byatt says it generates half a billion dollars directly and indirectly. Because of their geographic position, Wodonga is well positioned to receive tourists, and Mayor Byatt says the council strategically plans for it.
One significant attraction the area is known for is the Bonegilla Migrant Experience, a National Heritage-listed site located close to the banks of the Murray River and Lake Hume. From the end of the Second World War to the early 1970s, Bonegilla hosted in excess of 300,000 migrants. It is one of the only remaining migrant centres still standing, and the state’s Multicultural Minister recently declared it to be the home of multiculturalism in the country.
“Those sorts of things are significant attractors for us as far as visitation goes, and they’re significant for the history of this country – and internationally in a lot of ways,” Mayor Byatt says. “That’s one of the key characteristics and points of difference for Wodonga.”
On the other side of the coin, there are a number of reasons to settle down in Wodonga, not simply visit. Mayor Byatt says they share many of the same advantages as other regional cities – a topic on which he can speak with authority, as he chairs Regional Cities Victoria and interim chairs Regional Capitals of Australia.
“We’re positioned very well at this stage to be able to take on bigger roles in being part of the country’s growth,” he says of regional cities. “There’s a focus on regional development right across the country, and I think leaders of local cities are actively engaged in the space of growth and development.”
He says this growth is not just taking place from a residential and population perspective, but from commercial, industrial and business perspectives as well. The goal of those associations is to create regional centres that are reflective of capital city-style living, but in beautiful parts of the region. According to Mayor Byatt, Albury-Wodonga is a “regional capital in-waiting”, and they have done a lot of planning within the business community over a number of years to help them take steps to become such a capital, and address the challenges that come with it.
Mayor Byatt recognises that regional cities are all individuals, with individual traits and characteristics, but he’s comfortable generalising to say they all have roles to play in both their local communities and regions. They also recognise and understand how they can play a role on the state and national levels.
“If you look at the positioning for our city, I think we can look forward to some pretty exciting times not only serving a local and regional agenda, but also playing a significant role in the state and the federal agenda,” he says. “That’ll certainly be the focus of the city over the next few years.”
Unique, challenging, exciting
Over the last couple of years, Wodonga has experienced record residential growth, as well as record commercial industrial growth. Moving forward, Mayor Byatt says the council is dedicated to ensuring this trend continues. In that vein, they are focusing on three things.
Firstly, there is the city’s Central Business District (CBD). For decades, Wodonga has been split through the middle by the Melbourne City rail line. Recently, however, the council was successful in petitioning both state and federal governments to have the line altered to align with the new Hume Freeway, therefore freeing up a significant amount of land in the heart of Wodonga’s CBD.
“We haven’t had the opportunity, because of the railway line, to have a city-type CBD development,” says Mayor Byatt. “Now with 40 hectares in total, right in the middle of the CBD, we are building a regional city of significance for this state.”
“That’s something that’s very unique to Wodonga, and it’s probably unique to any regional city around the country, if not in the world,” he continues. “Not many regional cities that have growth projections and development projects like we do have an opportunity to build the heart of their city.”
The second focus is LOGIC Wodonga. Originally developed in 2004, LOGIC was a forward thinking initiative of the then-city council to develop an industrial estate – a central intermodal ‘port’ – just 10 minutes to the west on the boundary of the city. “That decision has now realized in excess of 130 million dollars of private investment,” Mayor Byatt reports. It also provides significant employment for the area’s residents.
LOGIC Wodonga has attracted Woolworths Distribution Centre as an anchored tenant, caters for a number of private transport companies, and they have applications to build warehouses and other projects there. They also have a nationally recognised driver training facility, and they are actively working on a manufacturing precinct as well. “It’s a very visionary project, and it’s now delivering for our city as far as economic development and employment goes,” Mayor Byatt says. “Also, because it’s 600 hectares, we have a significant growth opportunity there.”
The third focus of the council is a future growth corridor in the Leneva Valley, where they are in the planning stages of a potential 14,000 lot development. “It will house in the order of 35,000 residents, and Wodonga is already pushing towards 38,000 residents so it’s almost another city in a sense,” Mayor Byatt says. With some good planning, he sees Leneva being a sustainable future development for residences, with a future commercial area as well.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for us, and we’re trying to capitalize on that,” Mayor Byatt says, looking to the future. “We have aspirations to be a growth centre, and we have aspirations to provide city like services.”
In addition to those three focuses, Wodonga has commissioned a plethora of local projects to help them meet their aspirations. An entertainment performing arts centre is on the way, for example, and so is a new aquatics facility – both $12 million projects.
“We’re in a very unique position, a very challenging position, but also a very exciting position for the growth of not only Wodonga, but Albury-Wodonga, and not only Albury-Wodonga, but the greater north east region,” concludes Mayor Byatt.