Melbourne gaining on Sydney as premier city

SYDNEY - After returning to his hometown of Sydney following almost a year of travelling abroad, 30-year-old Adrian McGruther decided he wanted a change.

On a whim, he convinced his girlfriend to move with him from Australia's largest city to its second-biggest, Melbourne.

The pair have lived there since January and quickly discovered why many say Melbourne is beginning to eclipse Sydney as Australia's "premier" city.

For one thing, housing in Melbourne is cheaper and it has released more land on its fringes for development.

Mr McGruther, who moved from a large law firm in Sydney to work in-house at a music company in Melbourne, said Melbourne's cheaper rents have allowed him and his girlfriend to move into a two-storey inner city apartment with views of the city.

"A house-and-land package on the fringes of Sydney will cost you A$550,000 (S$642,400) to A$600,000, but in Melbourne it's closer to A$400,000," Mr Greville Pabst of the WBP Property Group told The Australian Financial Review earlier this month.

Mr McGruther told The Sunday Times: "The beach is really one of the few things I miss (from Sydney). I love it here."

He is hardly alone in his new-found fondness for Melbourne.

Recent statistics show that the city's population - more than four million people - is booming and will eclipse Sydney's by 2053 or earlier.

Some economists and business groups fault Sydney for failing to focus on planning or investing in transport and housing since a flurry of development in the lead-up to the 2000 Olympics.

Meanwhile, Melbourne's more efficient transport network means outer suburbs are better connected to the city.

According to two leading planning experts, Associate Professor Glen Searle and Professor Kevin O'Connor, Melbourne's geography, low housing costs and "European quality" - including its laneways and trams - have proven strong draw cards for both foreign immigrants and Australians moving internally.

"Melbourne's underlying geography is now starting to be an advantage in competition with Sydney," said a report by the pair in December.

"Its less expensive and more-easily developed urban fringe reduces land costs for housing, logistics and other uses... The European quality... has also captured the zeitgeist of Generation Y and helped make it Australia's preferred destination for aspirational young professionals."

But Sydney still has the edge in several areas.

For instance, it still tends to attract more tourists, with 2.8 million international visitors last year compared with 1.8 million to Melbourne.

The gap, however, has been closing, with Melbourne's visitor numbers up more than 60 per cent since 2000, while Sydney's has been stable.

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