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Finding a sustainable balance

WHILE many locals are applauding the cautious approach the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River has taken to development, others are complaining that such a tight hold is undermining the region’s economic sustainability.

Margaret River Business Development Centre manager Dr Barbara Maidment believes the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of those voicing environmental concerns and needs adjustment to en-sure the economic viability of the region.

“Sustainability means socially just, economically viable and environmentally sound,” she said.

“The economy doesn’t just happen, and certainly not down here.”

Dr Maidment said the resident population of the Augusta –Margaret River Shire needed to double to a minimum of 20,000 just to support the existing business community.

“I don’t believe we are anywhere close to urban sprawl,” she said.

 Dr Maidment said the smaller blocks available in the controversial residential developments in east Margaret River, such as Riverslea, gave young families access to an affordable lifestyle.

“People need to stop thinking that development is synonymous with greed.”

Dr Maidment said the shire’s jobless rate was above the State average.

According to ABS figures the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River population is one of the most highly educated in the State, however it has one of the lowest income rates.

“We get people thinking that Margaret River is all go, go, go, then they can’t get work after six months of looking,” she said.

“We have a lot of people that are underemployed; people with uni degrees.”

Dr Maidment said she was concerned the shire was developing a ‘drawbridge mentality’ that would ultimately turn the region into a playground for the wealthy.

“Without employment and afford-able land, it is only rich people who can afford to live down here and that is a very small percentage of the population,” she told WA Business News.

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River chief executive Ian Bodill supported the current council’s strong stance on environmental protection but said the local economy required more attention.

“I think the council has kept to the right course as far as the environment is concerned. The triple bottom line is alive and well in Margaret River,” he said.

Local employment figures were buoyed by the false economy of the building industry, Mr Bodill said, and there was a need to foster alternative industries in the region to help counter the seasonal nature of tourism.

Local landowner/developer Rod Duggan said it was getting harder and harder to develop land that was affordable for first-home buyers.

Mr Duggan said local and State government taxes and the escalating price of land was making it difficult for developers to make a profit from residential development in the shire.

“Every subdivision creates so many jobs for planners, builders and the shire gets more rates,” he said.

‘If the shire starts not being able to provide land for residential blocks it is going to drive up the price of land and make it harder and harder for young families to buy in the area.”

Mr Duggan said there seemed to be a steady demand for buildings with many residential blocks sold before they were even developed.

Koltsz Smith planning consultant and project manager Peter Glede said there needed to be a balance between conservation and the region’s continuing need to diversify economic growth.

“At Gnarabup there are eight hectares identified for tourism developments, which would generate significant employment opportunities, but the council has determined not to allow development largely based on their view of development in the town planning scheme,” he said.

Mr Glede said the shire seemed to believe that developers shouldn’t be releasing residential land despite the fact there was market demand.

“I don’t know why it is not seen as sustainable; houses don’t get built unless people are secure and in employment,” he said.

Mr Glede acknowledged that the demand for residential development would diminish in the future, but said the market had been running strongly for the past few years and the region had a trend of steady growth.

“The economy is maturing; to a large extent it used to be seasonal, for the last few years it has become constant,” Mr Glede said.

“The growth itself will generate service industries – the viticulture industry will generate lots of employment, particularly when they start to value add with restaurants and accommodation.”

He expected the new Shire of Augusta-Margaret River town planning scheme, currently in draft form, would determine the future level of development that would occur in the region.

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