There’s no doubt that Sydneysiders are fleeing the harbour city, and an obvious reason for that is stratospheric house prices. But Sydney’s geography is also to blame, creating a double whammy of pain for residents.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data released on Tuesday showed Sydney’s population rose 2 per cent in 2016-17 to 5.1 million, an increase of 101,600 people.
That was fuelled by 85,000 overseas migrants. But more than 18,000 people abandoned Sydney last year. In contrast, Melbourne welcomed 9000 newcomers from other states and territories.
One of the key reasons is that Sydney has become Australia’s “lopsided city”. Unlike every other capital, whose CBDs are roughly in the centre of the metropolitan area, central Sydney is located at the far eastern end.
The western extreme of the city, in Penrith, is about 55km away. Head east and you’ll fall into the sea at Bondi Beach, just 9km from the steps of the Opera House.
Compounding the tyranny of distance, data obtained by news.com.au has found Sydneysiders looking to buy a home in the city’s median house price range have to search further from the CBD than Melburnians, only adding to the commuter misery for those working in the city centre.
Western Sydney University chair of architecture Chris Knapp said the city’s CBD was one of the most beautiful in the world, but it made Greater Sydney lopsided.
“If you were going to build a city from scratch for eight million people, you wouldn’t build Sydney the way it is,” Professor Knapp told local media.
“It has lots of people commuting a very long distance to the business centre.
“The Sydney CBD’s exquisite geographic placement on the harbour is wonderful — once you get there. Many people also have to reach the CBD by only the Harbour Bridge and tunnel, which is logistically a nightmare and there’s huge pressure on that kind of density.”
He compared Sydney to the challenges that plague San Francisco and New York, two cities whose centres are concentrated at one end of the urban area with limited access to the CBD.
According to property data and analytics firm, CoreLogic, the median house price in Melbourne is $828,720; in Sydney it’s a whopping $1,033,892.
Research from comparison website finder.com.au shows that in Melbourne a trip of about 25km is needed to find houses for sale around $800,000. That’s about the distance from Federation Square in the city centre to Altona, which takes half an hour by train.
Yet, aside from a few scattered suburbs, to get to the median house price in Sydney generally means heading 35km from the CBD.
That means buying a home somewhere like Glenwood, close to Blacktown in the city’s west, or Loftus in the south, at least a 50-minute slog from a CBD job.
Meanwhile, properties within 15-20km of the CBD can be about 40 per cent cheaper in Melbourne than in Sydney.
“It’s clear that buyers in Melbourne are getting a much better deal than those in Sydney, especially for areas close to the hustle and bustle of the central business district,” finder.com.au insights manager Graham Cooke said.