Growing pains for Broome

Broome is a town in boom times but does it have enough room to accommodate it? Julie-anne Sprague reports.


THE north west town of Broome is booming.

The population has grown at a high, yet steady, 5 per cent a year over about the past ten years.

Australian Bureau of Statistics report that Broome’s resident population in June last year was 13,921. 

Its population increased 6.2 per cent per annum between 1996 and 2001 which was the second highest growth rate of any local government area in Western Australia.

Broome is now the largest shire in the Kimberley region and it is only going to get bigger.

Residential growth is coming from Government departments moving their offices to Broome from other shires in the Kimberley region and more mining companies are choosing to use Broome as a fly-in fly-out centre.

There is also a contingent of people who have relocated from the eastern seaboard (usually after holidaying in Broome).

Broome Chamber of Commerce president Ron Johnston said he was still talking with a number of mining companies about the benefits of basing its employees in Broome rather than Perth.

“We are the largest regional centre in the Kimberley and there is an opportunity for us to have more people based here for fly-in fly-out,” he said.

Mr Johnston said the large volume of connecting flights in and out of Broome as well as Broome being an enjoyable place to live were good selling points.

More Kimberley-based Government workers are choosing Broome as a preferred shire to reside in. 

The effects of Government jobs being relocated to Broome has impacted on towns such as Derby.

The Derby Chamber of Commerce has reportedly hired a consultant, at a cost of $40,000, to help the town reverse the loss of employment and other opportunities to Broome. 

But while Broome’s population and tourist numbers are booming the coastal tourism town on the edge of the desert is facing a significant issue – shortage of land.

Government population projections suggest Broome’s population will reach 16,739 to 18,439 by 2006 and continue to grow at between 5 per cent and 7 per cent. WA’s growth is 1.77 per cent.

Based on these projections the WA Government estimates a further 840 to 1,260 dwellings will be needed by 2006.  However, land to build on is scarce.

Much of the land that surrounds Broome, and indeed much of the town itself, is subject to Native Title through the Rubibi people.

According to Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan, the Government is close to finalising Native Title discussions and all current Native Title negotiations will be resolved by the end of the year. 

However, the pressures the shortage of land has already created is being felt by home owners.

According to figures from Broome Real Estate First National four-bedroom two-bathroom houses start at $350,000 and can get as high as $800,000.

ABS figures show that the median loan repayments for Broome home owners last year was $1,216 per month.

The Government has been working for almost 10 years to relocate the Broome International Airport and use the land it currently occupies to develop residential lots.

However, Native Title negotiations have taken longer than expected, so much so that the Broome International Airport decided it could not wait any longer to invest in its property and in 2002 started capital works of $7 million to upgrade facilities.

The work has helped attracted direct routes into Broome but has also meant the airport will not be moving for some time. 

In the past 12 months four airlines have launched a total of five direct routes to Broome.

ABS figures show visitors to the Kimberley region increased 12 per cent in 2003 and they spent nearly 24 per cent more than they did 12 months before.

The boost in tourist numbers is prompting the resorts to upgrade and expand room numbers and services.

Three new resort developments that were stalled after the Ansett collapse have applied to the Shire of Broome for planning approval.

The planning process, however, is somewhat of a sore point for the council.

Shire of Broome president Tom Vinnicombe said attracting planners to Broome had been a problem.

“People are frustrated with the planning process because the planning department is under resourced. We’ve had additional requirements placed on us with the introduction of the community residential planning codes,” he said.

“We have had enormous difficulty in attracting planners to Broome to stay for the long term. We have four positions but we only ever have two filled full-time.  The last two years were the worst and the last 12 months worse still and the last six months was worse still.

“It’s finding people that is the problem, but it’s not just a Broome issue – it’s Australia wide.”

Broome’s road network is also struggling to cope with increasing services and population growth.

According to Mr Vinnicombe the current road system was designed with the intention that the airport would be relocated.

“The road network is struggling,” he said.

“The roads were designed with the airport moving so the current layout hasn’t been designed to meet the volume,” he said.

“Roebuck Estate is cut off from the high school and a lot of other services. The Bypass Road hasn’t been funded yet. So what we have now are triple road trains going through the main street of town.”


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