31/03/2011 - 00:00

Planning an assault in the north

31/03/2011 - 00:00

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WITH the state government planning to pour $856 million into its Pilbara Cities program, it seems logical for town planning firms to exploit this opportunity by expanding in the targeted growth centres of Port Hedland and Karratha.

WITH the state government planning to pour $856 million into its Pilbara Cities program, it seems logical for town planning firms to exploit this opportunity by expanding in the targeted growth centres of Port Hedland and Karratha.

That is exactly what Northbridge-based town planning firm Greg Rowe and Associates is doing.

The opening of its Karratha office this year follows the addition of an office in Port Hedland in 2010, and takes its number of regional offices to four.

The Mandurah office manages projects in the Peel area and the South West, and is best known for its work at Port Bouvard, while its Geraldton office has been heavily involved with the Glenfield Beach Residential Estate.

The business’s principal, Greg Rowe, said a change of government and focus on the Pilbara had made a big difference to the 20-year-old company’s regional growth strategy.

“2005 was about the time we decided our growth in Western Australia should have regional presence ... personnel and work simply determined that Peel was first, Geraldton second and now Karratha,” he said.

“We’re big supporters of the government’s commitment to the Pilbara, we think they’re great initiatives and we want to be part of those.”

The company doesn’t plan to focus only on Karratha but wants to work right throughout the Pilbara.

“We’re keen to push further north into the Kimberley. We wouldn’t necessarily talk about a permanent presence in those places because you can just stretch your organisation too far, but we’d certainly be looking to do work right through to Kununurra, Derby, right through the Kimberley and that would be supported either from Perth or from Karratha,” Mr Rowe said.

In Port Hedland, the company is currently involved in work for BHP Billiton and accommodation for Fortescue Metals Group’s transient workers.

It also completed a land supply study earlier in the year for the town of Port Hedland to find ways of accommodating more permanent residents in the town.

In Karratha, most of the company’s current work is for private landowners in planning multi-unit developments and in the industrial estates.

One of the challenges for the company will be to find workers for its Karratha office, which it is currently servicing one week a month with fly-in, fly-out staff.

Mr Rowe said that the company’s model in regional locations was to have local people.

“We’ve had less success when we’ve tried to support our regional offices with fly-in, fly-out or in Mandurah drive-in, drive-out. It doesn’t work,” he said.

“Having people based in the community works very well. They’re far more committed, there’s local work for them, and people in those locations prefer to deal with permanent residents.”

Mr Rowe said the firm’s regional offices had taken two years to become self-sufficient in the past and he was quite confident this would occur in Port Hedland and Karratha.

“There’s no problem with the work coming through but the costs of servicing up there are quite difficult – airline travel, air freighting, road freighting is hard – it’s getting easier but is still hard and that’s why we prefer to have people based in those positions,” Mr Rowe told WA Business News.

“We do supplement or support each of the offices throughout the regional group but then if the regional group comes under pressure we supplement it from [Perth], so there’s never a position where we’re understaffed.”

Greg Rowe & Associates is ranked as WA’s third largest town planning firm in the WA Business News ‘Book of Lists’, with a total of 25 town planners out of a staff of 40.

Subiaco-based RPS Group is ranked number one. RPS, formerly Koltasz Smith, was bought by UK-based environmental consultancy RPS Group and now has 110 town planners and three offices in WA – Port Hedland, Busselton and Subiaco.

Roberts Day Town Planning and Design, located in East Perth, is ranked second with 26 town planners.

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