13/05/2010 - 00:00

Coral Coast development concerns

13/05/2010 - 00:00

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Developers are ditching troublesome tourism projects in favour of residential developments. Russell Quinn reports.

Coral Coast development concerns

PROUD sandgropers have traditionally dismissed the notion that Western Australia really stands for ‘Wait Awhile’ as being an inaccurate description of their great state.

However in terms of delivering new tourism products, particularly along the Coral Coast between Cervantes and Exmouth, developers believe it’s an accurate claim.

One of the nation’s largest tourism developers has echoed the sentiment of junior developers in suggesting that WA is lagging behind the rest of Australia in terms of the delays and difficulties being experienced with government approvals, red tape and restrictive regulations.

WA-based publicly listed property development company Aspen Group’s tourism division, Aspen Parks, owns and operates the Ningaloo Reef Resort in Coral Bay and the Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort in Shark Bay, among others.

Aspen Parks general manager WA, Dean Massie, says other states provide much greater support for the development of tourism properties.

“Their philosophy seems to be ‘what can we do to help and how can we encourage development’ whereas in WA it seems to be the opposite,” Mr Massie says.

“At the moment, involved with every approval and development you want to do (in WA), you deal with up to 18 (government) departments.

“That’s what WA means ‘Wait Awhile’.”

Mr Massie says his company has been unsuccessful during the past 16 years in developing a $50 million resort on a four-hectare block adjacent to the Dolphin Resort, which would effectively double the size of the current 100-room facility.

However, on a positive note, he says land tenure negotiations with the state government are under way.

“A tourism development authority needs to be set up, not as another layer of bureaucracy but as a department that assists with the development of tourism products in WA,” he says.

And plans for a $500,000 refurbishment of the existing resort have been postponed until November due to difficulties in securing contractors and supplies.

Meanwhile, other developers have warned that the number of new tourism products introduced along the Coral Coast in recent years will not increase until government support improves.

Australia’s Coral Coast chairman, Manny Papadoulis, says in 2005 the industry had high hopes of opening more than 30 new tourism products in the region by this year, but only five have come online including: two Edge Resorts (Cervantes and Kalbarri) from developer Jon Jessop; Novotel Ningaloo Exmouth Resort; Exmouth Escape Resort; and Barry Humfrey’s Broadwater Mariner Resort in Geraldton.

“Why does it happen? I can’t give a straight answer,” Mr Papadoulis says. “Sometimes it’s council, sometimes it’s planning, sometimes it’s DEC; there’s not a common thread.”

Mr Papadoulis backs self-described junior developers who claim the obstacles to delivering new tourism developments, as compared to residential projects, will continue to force key players out of the industry.

Edge Group hotel developer Jon Jessop says all of his developments are on hold (including redeveloping a Geraldton motel where he’s already spent $150,000 on planning permits and working drawings) while larger developers such as Mirvac, Fini, Pindan and the Hawaiian Group are pulling out of developing tourism properties altogether.

“Everything is on hold and we’re looking at possibly doing residential developments and moving away from tourism,” Mr Jessop says.

“Anybody like me or Barry (Humfrey) that’s spending tens of millions of dollars in regional WA ... you’d think the government would be encouraging, you’d think they’d be reducing red tape, you’d think they’d be assisting us, but they’re not.”

Humfrey Land Developments managing director Barry Humfrey has been trying to progress the development of a $30 million eco-resort on the Abrolhos Islands from his Geraldton base for 16 years.

“We’ve been there for a long time, and spent $3 million on doing it right,” he says.

However, the state government recently informed him that he has to swap islands from Long to East Wallaby due to global warming concerns, a move he says he suggested more than a decade ago.

Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls hopes upcoming legislation will improve impediments to development, and that he wants to hear from developers with specific examples of project delays and frustrations, rather than generic complaints.

Despite tough conditions there’s been some development success of late, with the $22 million Exmouth Escape Resort opening in December following the $30 million Novotel Ningaloo Resort in 2006.

Both are owned and operated by private local syndicates.

 

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