Located on the western fringe of the Greater Sydney Region, the City of Blue Mountains is one of only two cities in the world surrounded by a UNESCO declared World Heritage National Park Area. With a spectacular environmental setting, the Blue Mountains is home to a community of nearly 80,000 people residing in 27 towns and villages located over 100 kilometres of mountainous terrain.
The key challenge going forward for the City of Blue Mountains is how we can foster social and economic well-being, attracting positive growth and change and be responsible for the needs of community.
The City of Blue Mountains stretches across the Great Diving Range and provides a major road and rail transport link between urban Sydney and the more rural central west areas of NSW.
The transition through a series of distinct Blue Mountains towns and villages over the Great Dividing Range, and the scenic landscapes of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, tells you that you have left the metropolitan area and are travelling through a different and unique place.
Many Blue Mountains residents work in metropolitan Sydney and many of the services we regularly use are located in metropolitan Sydney. We benefit from direct transport links to major economic centres in Western Sydney and Sydney’s CBD.
A railway line with regular train services passes through most Blue Mountains towns and villages, making our City more accessible than many other areas on the fringe of Greater Sydney. Rail and road transport links also support our tourism industry, making it easy for tours and independent travellers to visit.
Many residents live in properties that directly connect to bushland and within relatively small hamlets and villages. Despite our unique peripheral urban fringe character, the Blue Mountains is considered by the State Government to be part of the Greater Sydney Metropolitan Area.
Blue Mountains natural areas provide a significant recreation and tourism resource for Greater Sydney and the world. They also play a significant role in providing high quality drinking water to Sydney, as much of the City, south of the highway, drains into Lake Burragorang.
Our city includes areas that are of great Aboriginal cultural significance. We respect our Aboriginal community and celebrate their success in achieving recognition for their places and knowledge.
The Blue Mountains area has been the home to Aboriginal people for many thousands of years. The region covers large parts of the traditional lands of the Gundungurra and Darug language/tribal groups. The Aboriginal history of the area is significant and includes pre-contact and post-contact representations. For Aboriginal people this is not just historically important but also important today, as cultural connections are ongoing.
Two hundred years after Europeans crossed the Blue Mountains there are still many Aboriginal people with traditional connections to this ‘Country’, living in the region. There are also vast amounts of cultural sites in the Blue Mountains that not only illustrate Aboriginal cultural heritage but are an important legacy for present and future generations of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.
The post contact history of the Blue Mountains began with the first crossing by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth in 1813. The Great Western Highway still largely follows the route they took. The development that followed initially supported settlers making the journey over the Blue Mountains and then tourists keen to enjoy the natural beauty of the area. Many of the attractions built in this first phase of tourism continue to be major draw cards, including major hotels like The Carrington and The Hydro Majestic and facilities including heritage walking trails.
Our Towns and Villages
We are a Blue Mountains community, and a series of communities. Each town and village has its own character and distinctive features. Many of our towns and villages are long established and have distinctive heritage buildings.
We are a low density city comprised mainly of single dwellings on large blocks. Ribbons of development often extend out along ridge lines with a single road and housing backing onto bush. Our proximity to natural areas supports lifestyle and leisure interests, but has inherent bushfire and environmental degradation risks that require management.
Most of our housing is in detached dwellings on large lots. Our population is changing and is becoming steadily older. Our housing diversity is not changing at the same pace as the changing needs of our population.
Our settled areas are surrounded by bushland of World Heritage significance. This bushland backdrop underpins our quality of life, and attracts many visitors to our City, with tourism being a mainstay of our local economy.
Increasingly, our community is becoming more digitally connected. Between 2006 and 2011 the percentage of households with an internet connection rose from 69% to 81%, and in 2016 work has commenced to connect Blue Mountains households to the National Broadband Network (NBN).
We have more cars, and are travelling less by public transport. We are an environmentally-aware city, but we are becoming ever-more dependent on access to private transport, and are using public transport less. The average number of train trips made each day has fallen to 15,000, a drop of almost 12% since 2004. The fall in patronage, however, is not evenly spread, with barrier counts going up at Katoomba and Blackheath stations.
Fewer people are using public transport to travel to work. In 2011, only 11.5% of employed people used public transport to travel to work. This is a significant drop from 17.7% in 1991. In comparison, in Greater Sydney, the use of public transport for travel to work in 2011 was almost 20%.
The volume of traffic on the highway has remained relatively stable, however the proportion of traffic travelling through the Blue Mountains appears to have increased. The upgrade of the highway to Katoomba was completed in 2015 providing a four-lane dual carriageway from Lapstone to Katoomba.
The safety of our roads is improving with fewer injuries as a result of crashes. In 2013, there were 165 reported crashes resulting in 207 casualties. This is a 10% drop in crashes and a 22% drop in casualties from 2011.
Our City population is growing slowly. Almost 80,000 people were estimated to live in the Blue Mountains in 2015. Our average annual rate of growth has been well below the growth rate for NSW and Australia. Forecasts for growth until 2031 vary from 81,400 residents, under a scenario based on no change from the current growth evidence, to 97,300 residents, in projections prepared by NSW Planning and Environment.
Our population is less likely to leave the Blue Mountains than people living elsewhere in Sydney. In 2013–2014 only 5.75% of our residents moved out of the city. Residents tend to move into the Blue Mountains from the east and move out to the west. Between 2006 and 2011, the highest net gain of residents was from Penrith (+392), with the highest net loss being to Lithgow (–302).
We are a city of families and older people. The Blue Mountains population is ageing at a faster rate than Greater Sydney. People in the 35–44 year age group, and their young children, make up most of the net movement into the Blue Mountains.
Our distance from the CBD, and most major educational institutions, means that many young people move away from the Blue Mountains for education, career opportunities and the desire to live a more urban lifestyle.
The Blue Mountains is more affordable and liveable than many other more urban areas. Compared to metropolitan Sydney, the Blue Mountains provides more affordable housing, excellent facilities for families and a safe and caring community. The 2015 Urban Living Index gave the suburbs from Lapstone to Springwood the top score in Greater Sydney for affordability. These suburbs also scored well on the community and employability components. They were ranked 108 out of Sydney’s 228 suburbs for urban liveability, which is a much higher ranking than other areas on Sydney’s fringe. This combination of affordability and liveability makes the Blue Mountains an ideal choice for many families.
Families have tended to be strongly attracted to the Lower Mountains, where 41% of households have children – much higher than the average of 31% for the Blue Mountains.
Who lives in the Blue Mountains changes from west to east. In the west, residents are more likely to be retirees. In the east residents are more likely to be part of a young family. The differences across the City have a big impact on the needs of our residents and required service delivery in the different parts of the Blue Mountains Local Government Area (LGA).
We are an ageing community, and many people in the Blue Mountains live alone. The proportion of residents over 65 is increasing faster than the average for Greater Sydney. By 2031, one in four people, or as many as 24,000 Blue Mountains residents, could be 65 or more years old. Our housing stock of primarily detached dwellings on large lots may not be the optimum housing option for many of our older residents.
We have not become as ethnically diverse as other parts of Sydney. Between 2006 and 2011, the proportion of residents from a non–English speaking background did not change.
We are a helping community with a much higher rate of volunteering (23.4%) than the average for Greater Sydney (15.1%). The large number of people working in bushcare to help conserve our World Heritage environment is just one example of how many of us are prepared to volunteer and help out.
We are a City of the Arts and have more people engaged in the arts, and deriving some of their income from creative activity, than any other part of NSW, except for the City of Sydney. We have developed an artistic community of sufficient size to generate its own momentum. This creative energy benefits the entire community, through exhibitions, performances and cultural diversity. People involved in the creative industries are more likely to live in Katoomba, Leura or Blackheath.
We value, enjoy and will enthusiastically lobby and take direct action to protect our natural environment.
The Blue Mountains economy is growing. The proportion of NSW jobs located within the Blue Mountains has remained stable at 0.57%, with 20,902 jobs in the Blue Mountains in 2014–2015 (Source: National Institute of Economic and Industry Research).
Residents consistently rate the generation of local employment opportunities as an important issue. Increasing the range of industries and business opportunities supporting our local economy, could support the generation of local employment opportunities.
Tourism is a critical component of the local economy, and is growing. The total number of visitors in 2015 was close to 3.6 million, and grew by over 20% from 2011 to 2015.
Our levels of tourism have been affected by natural disasters. Major bushfires can affect perceptions of the Blue Mountains as a safe and beautiful place to visit. Visitor expenditure in the region was increasing faster than the NSW average until 2013, and was on track to meet Destination NSW target of doubling visitor expenditure by 2020. However, a downturn in tourism following the 2013 bushfires affected all tourism ventures and required a targeted advertising campaign and funding. The 2015 visitor expenditure could indicate the start of a recovery in tourism expenditure.
Blue Mountains businesses tend to be small businesses. In 2011 there were 5,607 registered businesses in the Blue Mountains, of which 97% were small businesses, employing fewer than 20 people, while 87% had less than five employees.
Blue Mountains residents are more likely to work from home than the average resident in Greater Sydney. In 2011, 6.3% of the workforce worked from home compared to 4% for Greater Sydney.
Katoomba, the key Upper Mountains town centre, and a District Service Centre, has had an increasing number of shop vacancies in the last two years from 2014–2016. The vitality of the retail centres is affected by shop vacancies.
Good road and public transport links, especially between the Blue Mountains and Sydney, are essential to supporting the tourism economy of the region and also in providing residents with access to employment opportunities. Blue Mountains residents working outside the LGA take advantage of the good transport links to the west through Penrith and Parramatta, to Sydney. Penrith (18%) and the City of Sydney (7%) capture the most residents who work outside the Blue Mountains, with less than 10% of residents nominating a work location that was not on this spine.
Our ageing population will demand more specialised community, health and recreational services to support them as they age. This will include services that help people to remain in their homes, such as domestic and health care services. Businesses that understand and are able to respond to the needs of our ageing population are likely to find increased opportunities in the region over the next twenty years.
Our regional and rural context has low rates of agricultural land-use and development compared to other Greater Sydney regions. Across the City, only 140 properties are rated farmland.