Thirty five years ago Robina was a largely swampy expanse of grazing land, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Now the city’s first master-planned community and adjacent Varsity Lakes are key to the Gold Coast’s future, with a vision for triple-digit growth.
Ask arguably Australia’s most famous demographer Bernard Salt what he thinks about the future of the Robina/Varsity area and it’s not surprising he talks it up.
The self-confessed ‘big fan’ of the Gold Coast, with a track-record of almost 20 years spruiking the city and the stats behind him, believes the Robina area will be key to a bright and populous future for the Gold Coast, which could see the city’s population double in the next 35 years.
And it’s in accommodating the increased population, and particularly in providing smart jobs, that the Robina area is set to intensify its importance, alongside the Gold Coast CBD, Southport and the Gold Coast Health & Knowledge Precinct.
If the Robina Business Alliance (RBA) realises its vision, Robina will be one of the city’s key engine rooms surrounded by green – with a City Park, modelled on the great parks of the world including New York’s Central Park, to provide the lungs for a fast-growing city.
Melbourne-based, Bernard Salt believes that with its linear form, the Gold Coast has the ability for each of the city’s hubs to distinguish itself, a bit like New York villages do with their distinct personalities and unlike the regional centres of southern capitals that are largely residential, retail and commercial carbon copies of each other.
“The Robina area is geographically central with the green space around it, plus it has evolved not only as a retail hub but as an emerging location for health and education, which aligns well with the growth industries of the future,” says Mr Salt.
It’s the big picture context he presented to an eager audience in a sell-out breakfast of 300 business people at Bond University, where a very big vision for the future of the area was unveiled and lapped up.
From swamp to master-planned community
The City of Gold Coast’s local studies library paints an enchanting, fairy-tale like picture of the Robina area prior to development – “a wilderness of lagoons, paper barks and casuarina and home of the mythical Merrimac Bunyip.”
No sign of the bunyip these days, but the Robina fairy-tale has turned into a magical story of a whole lot of something out of nothing – a residential community including neighbouring Varsity Lakes that is home to 40,000 people, the Gold Coast’s largest shopping centre and surrounding commercial development, Australia’s first private university, a regional public hospital, railway station, six schools, numerous golf courses and the city’s largest sporting stadium, flanked to the west by the Pacific Motorway.
In December 1980, Arthur Earle and Singapore developer Robin Loh purchased a 1658 hectare site for A$11.2 million from the liquidators of the Cambridge Credit Company, according to the local studies library.
“The local real estate market was booming and the area west of Broadbeach was one of the few large undeveloped sites, close to the beach and commercial areas and major road systems.The name Robina had been used by Robin Loh for a number of projects in South East Asia but eventually in Australia, Robina became associated with the business partnership of Arthur Earle and Robin Loh,” the library says.
Since the 80’s the Robina Group has developed more than 10,000 homesites to create one of Australia’s first master-planned communities, with the Robina Central Planning Agreement, passed in State Parliament in 1992, providing town planning advantages.
Bond University made history as Australia’s first private, not-for-profit higher education institution when it’s first cohort of just 322 students commenced studies in 1989.
The first two stages of the Robina Town Centre opened in 1996 and the centre, which has been refurbished and expanded numerous times since, now covers 34 hectares with over 350 speciality shops and major retailers including two department stores, Australia’s largest Big W and Queensland’s first Zara store.
The railway line to Robina opened in May 1998 and was extended to Varsity Lakes in December 2009. Robina Hospital opened as a private hospital in 2000 and was purchased by the State Government in 2002 – it has since had three expansions. C-Bus Stadium (formerly Skilled Park) opened in February 2008 and is home-ground of the Titans.
Major densification, major potential
“When you take stock of the Gold Coast today, there are very few regions that can match Robina/Varsity’s capacity for growth and expansion – or its ability to provide diversity of housing and workspaces – with 50 hectares of approved developable land and a raft of key infrastructure and services already in place,” says Mr Salt.
He forecasts a doubling of the Gold Coast’s population to 1.2 million by 2050, with 370,000 dwellings required in existing areas as ‘in-fill’ higher-density developments.
The newly-formed RBA commissioned independent researchers Urbis to crunch the numbers on the the opportunities and they add up to a vision of staggering growth.
- Robina area population predicted to grow by 126 per cent to more than 92,000 people by 2050
- Growth of 29,085 new jobs in the area to 41,730 in 2050, thereby doubling its share of the Gold Coast’s total employment
- Growing the size of the Robina/Varsity Lakes economy 2.8 times from $1.9 billion in 2016 to $5.4 billion in 2050.
- Bond University forecast to grow by 125 per cent by 2050
High tech jobs
The RBA vision hinges on major investment and planning support to develop not only increased residential density, but commercial development as a major location for smart business, innovation, technology, health and education. Also critical will be transport infrastructure and the RBA will lobby for a light rail connection to the coastal strip and linkages to the Gold Coast airport.
Bernard Salt envisages a high-tech office precinct not unlike Pao Alto in greater San Francisco.
RBA President Ben Burgess says the knowledge-based employment vision can be built on a strong existing framework.
“Urbis research shows Robina/ Varsity currently has Gold Coast City’s highest volume of occupied office space and levels of worker productivity and is home to a diverse and highly connected network of industry leading businesses,” says Mr Burgess.
Robina is the mid-point of a research triangle that includes the Gold Coast Health and Knowledge Precinct centred around Griffith University and the Gold Coast University Hospital to the north, with the southern point being the emerging precinct of Southern Cross University and the airport.
Urbis director Malcolm Aikman says Robina/Varsity’s professional services sector was expected to increase by 471 per cent to 2050, with health services to grow by 195 per cent over the same period.
“Our research shows that Robina/Varsity’s future job market will be led by professional, scientific and technical services, which will offer more than 6,300 FTE jobs in 2050, representing 15 per cent of this region’s employment,” he says.
Heart and soul
Then there’s the opportunity for green space, much of it on a flood plain, to provide the room for a growing city to breathe.
“As the Gold Coast denses up, open space will become a premium as the lungs of the city,” says Mr Salt.
“The City Park vision is in line with Gold Coast City’s existing Green Heart urban parkland vision – it has the potential to become Gold Coast City’s Central Park or Golden Gate Park, and will provide an incredible international attraction for visitors and valuable resource for residents,” says Mr Burgess. The RBA envisages the space incorporating sports and recreational facilities along with hotel and residential development.
“Part of our City Park strategy will involve a catalyst eco-tourism project and major international events.”
If the 35 year vision sounds grand, Mr Salt points to how far the area and the city have come in the last three and a half decades.
“I’m a believer in the Gold Coast. I am an optimist about the Gold Coast. Already it is starting to look, feel and behave like a capital city but with the opportunity to retain the lifestyle that attracts everyone here in the first place.”
Members of the Robina Business Alliance include Bond University, QIC, Robina Group, Von Bibra Automotive, WMS Solutions, Radcliff Taylor Lawyers, Clarence Property Group and Robbie Bennetts Enterprises.
See Business Gold Coast for more.