Parts of regional NSW are being transformed under the state government’s unique Special Activation Precinct (SAP) program. Officially defined as “a new way of planning and delivering industrial and commercial infrastructure projects in dedicated areas of regional NSW”, SAPs essentially fast-track planning and investment to turbo-charge economic activity and development by attracting businesses and jobs.

Five SAP regions have so far been announced: Parkes, Wagga Wagga, Moree, the Snowy Mountains and most recently the defence hub of Williamtown half an hour north of Newcastle. The RAAF Base Williamtown is Australia’s primary Department of Defence fighter pilot training base, home to the majority of the country’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fleet, F/A-18 Hornets and the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail, and is also the Asia Pacific Regional Warehouse for F-35s.

As a burgeoning centre for not only defence but also aviation, aerospace and technology, such high-quality tenants as Lockheed Martin and Boeing Defence Australia have already taken up residence at new commercial campus-style tech park Williamtown Aerospace Centre (WAC). The centre, located near the entry to Newcastle Airport and two minutes’ drive from the RAAF base, is billed as Australia’s premier defence technology estate. Construction is soon to begin on the next stage, Precinct 52, an 11-hectare parcel of land slated for warehouse, logistics, distribution, assembly, workshop, commercial, light industrial space and more.  Also taking shape next to the Newcastle Airport and RAAF Base is Astra Aerolab, a defence and aerospace precinct being developed on 76 hectares of land.

Bigger and better

Now with the recent SAP designation, the Williamtown region is favourably placed to attract a whole new raft of businesses and support services. These will range across industries from agribusiness and forestry to resources and mining, tourism and hospitality, tertiary education and skills, health and residential care and freight and logistics.

Master planning of the Williamtown SAP, located in the Port Stephens Local Government Area, is underway. About 10,000 hectares in and around Newcastle Airport and RAAF Base Williamtown is under consideration for development, and Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said the benefits of the new precinct for the Hunter Region and Northern NSW could not be underestimated.

“There’s a huge flow-on effect for the area already off the back of the F-35 fleet base at Williamtown and the maintenance that will be required as a result over the next 50 years,” Mr Palmer said. “Combined with the planned expansion and growth of the Newcastle Airport, the development of the land around the RAAF base and airport is hugely important for the region. Of all the areas given SAP status there’s such a huge upside here because of the $1 billion already committed to upgrading the RAAF facilities.

“If the area hadn’t been designated a special activation precinct it’s very unlikely that, outside of areas already rezoned, that council would have been able to pull this together – as this new status  granted by the state government allows extremely quick turnaround of development applications and planning approvals.” Mr Palmer also said the precinct status also augurs well for Newcastle airport and plans to extend the runway to cater for freight and passenger flights servicing South East Asia.

Local business owner Rod Gurr is typical of the many who are riding on the back of the area’s commercial growth. The owner of two cafes, one at the RAAF Base and another in the WAC business park, says he has a growing and captive audience. “We’ve watched the business parks grow from virtually zero to where there’d have to be around 1000 people just in our precinct,” Mr Gurr said “We haven’t had to worry about trying to attract customers from the airport or elsewhere as there are so many workers moving into this area.”

Business booster

All SAP regions were chosen for unique factors. The first, Parkes, is essentially Australia’s largest inland port as it sits at the junction of two major rail links allowing products to reach more than 80 per cent of the population overnight. The Parkes precinct’s master plan was delivered in June this year and cuts the red tape to fast track development across 4800 hectares of land. It aims to create 3000 jobs driven by freight and logistics, resources and agriculture, and will be the location of a UNIDO Eco Industrial Park catering to environmentally friendly businesses.

The Wagga Wagga SAP plan is capitalising on the town’s proximity to the Inland Rail Project by bringing manufacturing, agribusiness, and freight and logistics to the region. The draft master plan is now open for public exhibition and feedback until September 15.

Moree’s SAP aims to create a business precinct for the region on the back of the area’s existing agricultural industry and its access to the Inland Rail and Newell Highway. Work is still underway on a draft master plan which is geared toward attracting agribusiness, logistics and food processing businesses in particular to Moree.

The deadline for feedback on the draft vision for the Snowy Mountains is this Friday August 14. The preliminary vision will guide the creation of the Snowy Mountains Master Plan which focuses on boosting year round tourism and jobs, greater infrastructure investment to benefit both residents and visitors, and attracting tourism for not only Australia but the world to cement the area as Australia’s Alpine Capital.

Click for more information on Special Activation Precinct’s in regional NSW