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Lush fields for developers

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River council is keeping a tight rein on development projects in the region as increasing numbers of interested parties eye the prize. Tracey Cook reports.

WITH close to $300 million earmarked for proposed residential, tourism and infrastructure development in the region, the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River is riding the crest of a property development wave.

The steady growth sustained over recent years has accelerated of late and development applications from property developers eager to cash in on the region’s enduring popularity have been pouring in to the shire’s offices.

Driving the development interest are the maturation of the local viticulture industry, the region’s emergence as an internationally recognised tourist destination and decreasing development opportunities in northern coastal shires.

More than $75 million in tourism-related developments is currently on the drawing board for the Shire of Augusta- Margaret River region. A further $100 million in development dollars, proposed and in construction, is targeted at large-scale subdivision of rural land into residential blocks.

Some of the proposed developments include: a $100 million wind farm in East Augusta; a $30 million five-star hotel by Augusta Enterprises; a $15 million, 23 room lodge by the Fini Group and Mark Hohnen; a $30 million Gnarabup tourism/residential development by Mark Hohnen; and the $25 million expansion of Riverslea Residential Estate.  

While proposals such as the controversial Gnarabup development have been in the planning stage for the past decade, many of the proposals are recent and represent burgeoning development interest in the region.

The combination of the increasing popularity of wine tourism, unique natural attractions and an enviable lifestyle have ensured that Margaret River has maintained its place as one of Western Australia’s premier tourist destinations. 

Whether it is a weekend getaway, international or interstate holiday destination or, increasingly, a place to come and live, people love the region and the town of Margaret River is busier than ever.

In contrast to the State average of 1.2 per cent, the overall population growth in the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River is 5.5 per cent, while the town of Margaret River clocks in at nearly 6.9 per cent a year.

The region has experienced steady growth during the past 12 years – the current shire population represents a 22 per cent increase since 1996 and 67 per cent increase since 1991 – but in recent years the local building and construction industry has really heated up.

The value of building approvals in the past three years – residential and non-residential – in the region has increased by 8 per cent, an increase of more than $16 million going into the local building industry.

Shire Augusta-Margaret River director of planning and strategic development, Rory O’Brien, said the planning team was kept very busy dealing with development applications.

“We process about 75 a month; we did about 72 this month,” he said. 

“In the heavier months we sometimes receive in excess of 100 development applications.”

Mr O’Brien said there was a significant degree of pressure on the five planning staff members to work through the applications and determine recommendations that would go to council. 

“Margaret River has one of the fastest growth rates in the State,” he said.

Increasing coastal land prices were pushing investors further south, according to Mr O’Brien.

“Some big subdivisions have gone though this year. Over the next 20 years we expect to see a doubling of the population,” he said.

Dale Alcock South West region sales manager Geoff Hayres said there had been an astronomical increase in building in the past two years.

“We have seen a 30 per cent increase around the Margaret River area,” he said. “The availability of land has been a big factor in driving it and so far the demand for land is outweighing the supply of it.”

Mr Hayres said the increasing number of homes being built was providing an employment boom for the local area.

“We certainly don’t see the building industry down here as cyclical, rather a slow steady growth, though there are certainly some spikes in that steady growth,” he said.

South West Development Commission chief executive Don Punch said the international recognition of Margaret River, and a growing interest in eco-tourism, were important factors in its growth.

“Town planning within the region is being challenged by developers coming into the region,” he said.

“The need to balance development is not new and it is not an easy task but it is critical in the South West as it is not a big land area.”

Mr Punch said growing numbers of people were choosing to move out of Perth and run their business or professions from the region.

It is not just people from Perth who are choosing to make Margaret River home, Ken Preston of Stocker Preston Real Estate said increasing numbers of expats were buying up in the region.

Mr Preston said in the past his agency was always being approached by expatriate Australians who were never heard from again, however, recently significant numbers of expats were buying property.

“We have sold more land in the eight months to the end of February than any previous 12-month period.

“The growth rate of the region is 5.5 per cent and I suspect it is going get higher.”  

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