14/05/2008 - 22:00

Threat to SW sand supplies

14/05/2008 - 22:00

Bookmark

Save articles for future reference.

IT may sound incongruous, but a major shortage of sand in coastal towns of the South West region has the potential to curb residential development and force the cost of building even higher.

Threat to SW sand supplies

IT may sound incongruous, but a major shortage of sand in coastal towns of the South West region has the potential to curb residential development and force the cost of building even higher.

During the past five years, the price of a cubic metre of sand has soared, from about $13/cu m to more than $20/cu m - a price spike caused by two major issues, according to those in the building industry.

Local councils are reluctant to approve extensions to existing sand pits, due to the environmental impact of clearing the land, forcing sand pit operators to close sites.

This is being exacerbated by dwindling supplies at existing pits, depleted after years of high demand for infill.

The issue has prompted the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF) WA and the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA), along with other parties, to convene later this month in order to lobby the state government over its role.

They argue that the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) has some responsibility for the situation, given the agency authorises sand pit approvals.

"We're questioning at the moment whether DEC has any legislative basis [for its decisions].

We're also looking at whether there is a process of appeal or an external third party to assess DEC's decisions," CCF WA chief executive officer, Nigel Haywood, told WA Business News.

Mr Haywood said the impact of rising sand prices on housing affordability was inevitable.

"We've calculated that the additional price on an average lot is somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000, just because of the increase in fill sand [costs]," he said.

The most recent casualty of the approvals process is Brunswickbased earth moving contractor B & J Catalano Pty Ltd, which will close its sand pit at Gelorup at the end of the month after failing to secure a licence to clear vegetation to extend the operation.

The closure will force contractors to travel another 45 kilometres to access the company's other sand pit.

Picton-based APH Contractors project manager Shane Farrell said closures were becoming much more frequent.

"We've got one sand pit where we've been trying to get approval for an extension for the past four years, that has about 2 million cubic metres [of sand]," Mr Farrell said.

"On another site, in Gelorup, we have to guarantee to give back [to DEC] 40 hectares of land, in order to clear about 16 hectares." Mr Farrell said there were several projects his company had been unable to provide quotes for due to a shortage of supplies.

"Also, the sand that is available in certain areas doesn't meet the specifications for building requirements," he said.

Mr Farrell said the situation was inevitable because, until now, developers had targeted land that required little preparation to build on.

"Now there are just low-lying areas left, which need more fill," he said.

Cottesloe-based developer Ironbridge Property has projects in both Australind and Dalyellup, with the latter containing 700 lots.

Ironbridge's Bill Carmody said he felt that, while environmental approvals were important, there was no room in the current decision making process for compromise or common sense.

"The difficulty is going to be, if there's no sand, you won't be able to construct subdivisions," he said.

"If the price becomes prohibitive, developers won't [go ahead with projects].

The market is very price sensitive at the moment, and you can forget about what happened in recent years [with demand].

"We have to be very aware of prices."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

Subscription Options