Illawarra Mercury

Building the city's future

Date: 22/11/2014
Words: 1328
Source: ILL
          Publication: Illawarra Mercury
Section: Weekender
Page: 6
It's an exciting road ahead for Wollongong, according to Angus Dawson, but it's not without its bumps and potholes, he tells LOUISE TURK.

The guest list at Angus Dawson's 50th birthday bash last year was comprised mostly of Wollongong friends, even though he had only lived in the city for two years.

He commented on this during a speech at the party held at North Wollongong Surf Life Saving Club.

"I remember saying that I had lived in regions all over the country and this was the first one where I was just accepted for who I am and what I am, and that to me is a measure of this place," he says.

"It doesn't matter what you do or where you've come from, or whether you have lived here for five generations or for five minutes, you are accepted in Wollongong on face value and that's a good thing for the regeneration of the city."

The ex-senior government executive moved to the Illawarra in 2011 to set up house with wife Allison Dawson (formerly Bolt), well-known in Wollongong as a successful restaurateur and daughter of the much-loved and now retired paediatrician Dr Allen James.

Dawson hailed from Sydney and from a succession of high-profile and challenging jobs in which he oversaw the implementation of multibillion-dollar building projects.

As general manager of the Honeysuckle Development Corporation from 1998 to 2005, Dawson fronted an organisation charged with turning Newcastle's derelict industrial waterfront into a thriving part of the city.

During Dawson's tenure, the Honeysuckle team secured the sale of land and development of more than 40 sites, worth more than $700 million, including a hotel, offices, retail and residential development.

He was then poached by the NSW government in late 2005 to take on the role of chief executive of the Growth Centres Commission, charged with co-ordinating $8 billion of infrastructure and planning 181,000 new homes in western Sydney for the next 40 years.

Dawson left that job in early 2009 to become the NSW Education Department's Building the Education Revolution (BER) program director.

In just under three years, he oversaw the delivery of 4660 projects, valued at $3.45 billion.

Now, with a permanent base in Wollongong, Dawson has been contracted by Health Infrastructure, to oversee the $106 million redevelopment works at Wollongong Hospital.

In the few years he has lived in Wollongong, Dawson says he has seen it transformed into a lively, highly liveable city that offers a more dynamic business environment.

"The thing that I have seen change in the short time that I've been here is the confidence that filters down from the bigger projects and bigger investments.

"Big jobs such as the new tax office building opening, GPT's massive Wollongong Central expansion, the redevelopment of the hospital and the enormous amount of investment in the port terminal at Port Kembla, gives local contractors and local people the confidence to go and spend some money in their economy, and that in turn generates more confidence through the community.

"The community starts feeling good about itself, and so it keeps going."

Dawson believes a vibrant culture of cafes, food and wine, has been created through the new restaurants and bars popping up around the CBD.

"When I first came here, people were saying there is no investment, and that's not the case anymore," he says.

"If you take a big project such as GPT you can see how that creates opportunities for all these smaller businesses which have opened, and that creates an air of competition which gets the economy going."

Like Newcastle, Wollongong has been undergoing its own rebirth from a manufacturing-based town to a chic coastal city with diverse industries, million-dollar beachside real estate, leafy neighbourhoods, renowned environmental assets, and a buzzing cultural scene of art, music and theatre.

"My experience in Newcastle was that while BHP closing was an enormous emotional thing for the community it actually wasn't a bad thing because it spread the economic and intellectual property of the city and the Lower Hunter into other areas," he says.

"The people had to find something else to do and to a certain extent that has been happening here and by stealth.

"We may not have stopped to think we have one of the best universities in the country in the University of Wollongong or that we have a magnificent area health service which is an enormous employer and has an annual budget of around $700 million in this region."

Dawson says one of Wollongong's greatest strengths is its people, who are generally conducive to change.

"The folk in this town are encouraging of investment and advancement," he says.

"I've been to other places and indeed most big cities where development immediately is a dirty word and a bad thing."

Dawson is no stranger to copping public criticism. During his Honeysuckle years, there was flak from some that the project took too long to get off the ground and then there were grumbles the pace of change was too fast.

As head of the BER, Dawson was regularly in the media explaining the complexities of the program, which was double the work undertaken for the Sydney Olympics.

Yet his experiences have taught him the value of public debate in getting the formula right for development.

"The difference for me here is that people in Wollongong want change and I think it's good in regional areas because you can have a healthy debate," he says.

"In smaller communities there is better access to people and smaller groups to have a voice and that public debate is really important.

"Having worked in the government in that sphere for a long time I've learnt that the public debate is an important part of getting the best fit and the right thing for the whole community."

Dawson is optimistic about the future of Wollongong. Yet he believes there are bumps in the road which could be smoothed out.

"From an investment point of view the overzoning of land, particularly in the CBD, can be a little difficult," he says.

He also thinks the region's economic renewal would greatly benefit from the creation of a more streamlined pathway for potential investors.

"There is a very important role to be played by state and local governments to attract medium-sized investment," he says. "I think the work that Wollongong City Council and the NSW government does is very good but it's difficult for them."

A structured plan of attack for attracting investment would be better driven by one cohesive and local organisation, he adds.

"We have a range of organisations but it would be good if we could pull them all together and get one voice.

"The regional self-determination point is an important one because we have councils that represent us locally, we have a regional minister, and we have a bunch of very clever civic leaders, and people from the business and education community who are not on council or elected members whose knowledge and skills can be tapped."

Paddington-raised Dawson is the son the of the late Sydney obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Bruce Dawson and Nan Dawson (nee Winn).

Mrs Dawson, now living in Canberra, is the grand-daughter of Isaac Winn who co-founded Winns Department Store, which traded in Newcastle, until 1980.

Dawson, who was schooled at Sydney Boys High, ended up at Sydney's UTS studying for a bachelor of applied science in building.

Dawson married Allison in 2010.

They had first met at a mutual friend's 21st birthday party in 1983 and dated for six months before going their separate ways and travelling overseas.

He married Helena and they had two children.

She married former Illawarra Steelers captain Michael "Mick" Bolt and they had two children.

"Allison and I literally didn't speak to each other for 22 years," he says.

The pair got back in contact in 2009.

Dawson is very proud of the fact that he and Allison, and their former spouses, and their four children, enjoy a harmonious relationship.

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