THE consequences of popularity are becoming all-too apparent to the burghers of the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, who must balance the benefits of investment in the region with community concerns about environmental impact of over-development.
Controversy over Mark Hohnen’s Gnarabup development, which is being disputed in the Supreme Court and includes a $5.7 million claim against the shire, has placed the shire’s stance on development under close public scrutiny.
Issues such as the proposed expansion of Gracetown and ongoing subdivision of rural land, combined with a council that remains strongly committed to the environment, ensures the current dispute will not be the last time that the shire’s planning decisions are closely scrutinised.
A strategic plan adopted by council in 2001 sets out clearly the shire’s focus to preserve the main land uses of agriculture and tourism, and to protect the environment at every turn.
Director of planning and strategic development Rory O’Brien said part of this vision was a preference for small-scale tourism developments, controlling the urban sprawl of residential developments and ensuring any development yielded positive environmental results.
“There is a lot of concern in the council about some of the new residential developments, which are contributing to urban sprawl around Margaret River,” he said.
“Some of the residential development looks like ugly urban development in a rural setting.”
Mr O’Brien said that, in an effort to prevent the urban sprawl of Margaret River, the shire planned to disperse development and the population into other regional nodes in the shire.
Councillor Jamie McCall said council wanted to control the rapid expansion of Margaret River and disperse development into Cowaramup, Witchcliffe, Kudardup, Karridale and down to Augusta.
“We can then spread the load out over the beaches and infrastructure,” he said.
Mr McCall said one way council could control development was to simply refuse to rezone land, a lesson the council had only learned in the past six months.
“Unfortunately, as soon as land is rezoned the council loses control. Now we don’t rezone the land until we have nailed down exactly what the developers plan to do,” he said.
Pressure to intensify development was always ever present, Mr McCall said. “You look north to Dunsborough and Busselton, the area up there had something,” he said.
“Now it has been overdeveloped and has lost what it had. We have heaps of opportunity for development, but [it has to be] the right type of development.
“We want developers who look at our vision and want to share in it. We don’t want developers who are here to make a fast buck.”
Shire president Nick Dornan said the shire encouraged appropriate tourism developments because they created ongoing employment. The shire’s approach to residential development, however, was to keep the foot lightly on the brake.
Despite the current building boom in Margaret River, Mr Dornan did not consider property development to be sustainable, as it did not create full-time employment.
“Most of the growth we are experiencing is in the building industry,” Mr Dornan said.
“I’d like to encourage a broader range of business into the region, not just tourism and residential development.
He said it would not be difficult to encourage businesses to the region because of its many attractive assets.
“Many people are realising that with today’s technology they can run their business just as easily from Margaret River rather than from metropolitan Perth,” Mr Dornan said.
A strong supporter of the shire’s approach to development is Margaret River architect Chris Wilcox, who said he dealt with significant numbers of developers who were only interested in strata title type developments, which did not put much back into the town.
Mr Wilcox said he was currently working on a proposal for a $6.5 million environ-mentally friendly hotel for a local syndicate of investors who were looking for a return in 25 years rather than three years.
“Many developers do not understand the approach the shire has adopted to avoid the ‘Port Douglas syndrome’,” he said.
“I think this shire has taken steps to address the problems of overdevelopment and developers cannot understand this and many think the shire is venturing into areas that it shouldn’t.
“If developers cannot show responsibility and restraint, who else can take on these issues.”
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