The past, present and future of Sunshine North
Melbourne’s Airport Rail Link will be routed through it. The Victorian Planning Authority will be finalising one of its National Employment and Innovation Cluster frameworks around it. And now, savvy developers and investors alike are turning their attention to it and reinvigorating its housing market.
The suburb is Sunshine North, and according to property forecasters and industry experts alike, it’s time in the spotlight is now.
With the level of activity and investment being pumped into Sunshine North and its surrounds it is little wonder why the humble western locale is being touted by many as Melbourne’s next boom suburb. It’s a sentiment sure to spread with Urbis data reaffirming Sunshine North has all the markers for success.
With a population that has grown by over 13 per cent since 2006, and one that is forecast to increase by a further 22 per cent by 2026, Sunshine North’s demographic profile shows levels of change and gentrification higher than any other in Victoria. To understand Sunshine North’s progress, and what’s next for the suburb, we must consider how it all began.
Pre-war Sunshine, or Braybrook Junction as it was first named in 1860, was the home of the country’s largest manufacturing plant and the birthplace of the minimum living wage for Australian workers. The agricultural machinery manufacturing business, and the 400-acre company town Sunshine Estate that grew along with it, inspired a rebrand of the area.
In 1906, the plant was renamed the Sunshine Harvester Works. A year later residents and workers had successfully petitioned for the train station, post office, and shire riding's names to also change from Braybrook Junction to Sunshine in its honour. Developed with reference to the ideals of the Garden City movement, Sunshine Estate became regarded as a model industry-centred community and the “Birmingham of Australia”.
More formerly, the area went by the Shire of Braybrook (1871–1951), the City of Sunshine (1951-1994) and finally as we know it now, the City of Brimbank. In that time, its connections to the sprawling city of Melbourne strengthened with car-based travel enabling people to leave the inner-city and move into homes on larger blocks in suburbia.
Decades, later we are seeing this desire for city-fringe living return, with the area’s rich transport infrastructure a huge draw card for young professionals and families. Even before it was announced as the route Melbourne’s new Airport Rail Link will take, Sunshine Station was one of Victoria's most important regional rail hubs with all three of the main western region V/Line lines (Ballart, Bendigo and Geelong) meeting at Sunshine.
Having endured the decline of Australian manufacturing, Sunshine North persevered with many heavy and light industrial companies still situated in and around the area. So much so that the greater Sunshine area is now one of Melbourne’s Principal employment clusters outside the CBD and recognised as one of state’s industrial heartlands.
With a range of thriving businesses to build on, well-developed service centres, important regional institutions and a diverse local population, Sunshine North is perfectly placed to influence the specialised activities and major investments to service the growth in Melbourne’s western subregion. Such efforts are in the process of being formalised by the Victorian Planning Authority (VPA), which is currently finalising its Sunshine National Employment and Innovation Cluster (Sunshine Cluster) Framework Plan for submission to the Minister of Planning for approval.
Excerpt from VPA’s March 2017 draft framework plan:
The framework plan is an important step forward in the implementation of Plan Melbourne 2017-2050. It is a coordinated action plan aimed at increasing employment by driving economic growth in the suburbs through harmonised public and private investment.
The plan shows that Melbourne’s west is “open for business,” that there is a clear investment pipeline and a vision for how this city-shaping project will be delivered. This document defines actions to build on investment in healthcare and education, to improve the amenity of the Sunshine Cluster, to encourage the establishment of new businesses and services, to improve transport links and public transport and to coordinate business attraction and investment.
It also gives the Victorian Government, councils, developers, business and residential communities greater certainty and confidence about future development within the Sunshine Cluster.
Based on the VPA’s job estimates for 2051, the Sunshine Cluster (which currently provides 14,600 jobs), could see an additional 13,800 created by 2036. Such local employment, population and industry growth will of course lead to continued demand and requirement for housing in the area, with Brimbank City Council estimating that approximately a thousand dwellings will be required by 2036.
Sunshine North is already witnessing the conversion of former industrial and greenfield sites into residential homes and commercial developments with land here highly sought after and primed for redevelopment. ABS census data confirms gentrification is occurring at significantly higher levels of change compared with Greater Melbourne.
Sunshine North and its surrounds also reported a higher proportionate increase in white collar workers who reside in the area and higher average household income growth (up 47 per cent from $50,865 to $74,843 in the ten years to 2016, compared with Greater Melbourne’s 44 per cent increase). As its residents evolve, so too must the area’s residential offering.
While it has historically been characterised by detached dwellings, Sunshine North needs new infill developments to accommodate more lifestyle opportunities and varied typologies that cater to a wider social demographic. We need to diversify the housing mix and consider how townhouses and low-rise apartments can broaden the local property market to allow first home buyers, young professionals and those following employment to capitalise on Sunshine North’s relative affordability respective to adjoining suburbs such as Footscray and its location respective to the CBD.
This is the missing piece of Sunshine North’s development and infrastructure puzzle.
It will go a long way in our collective efforts to address the city’s lack of housing choice and affordability pressures. Ultimately, the success of Sunshine North, the Sunshine National Innovation and Employment Cluster and its residents relies on the collaborative efforts of its private and public stakeholders.
If we continue with this shared vision, we will enable Sunshine to grow into an economic powerhouse fuelled by premium housing choice, infrastructure and services.
Georgia Willis is a UDIA Victoria Urban Renewal and Infill Development Committee member and Pace Development Manager