Western Australian Minister for Planning John Day has refuted claims made by WA Chamber of Minerals and Energy (CME) chief executive Reg Howard-Smith this week that the State Government was not doing enough to ease land supply problems in the Pilbara.
In an article in The West Australian earlier this week, Howard-Smith said the Government urgently needed to make more land available in the Pilbara to cope with the influx of workers.
He said the property market was already under pressure and there was a risk of a mass exodus by non-mining workers who could not afford increasing rents and property prices.
Day yesterday told MINING DAILY that the Department of Planning only has a partial role to play in influencing housing prices through ensuring sufficient land is zoned for urban development.
“This Government is committed to speeding up approvals and approval processes, and ensuring sufficient land is available,” he said.
“The Government does not usually regulate housing prices by intervening in the market.
“It is active in remote and NW regional centres in land development due to the lack of private sector involvement, because the land is often owned by the Crown.”
However, according to Day, there were several factors pushing up land prices in the region.
These included truck infrastructure costs, the construction costs and timeframes incurred due to wet season delays, high labour costs and the need to design and build for cyclonic conditions.
“The Government would need to divert significant taxpayer dollars to subsidise high remote housing costs to keep these reasonable,” Day said.
CME research predicts the local residential population will jump by 17,000 people, or 40%, by 2014, partly because of the impact of the upcoming Gorgon project.
This compares with a 20% population increase during the last boom, from 2001 to 2006, when even highly-paid mining workers were forced to live in tents and caravans.
In the email, Day disputed this figure, pointing to the Government’s Pilbara Framework: Regional Profile.
The Government’s population projections suggest there will be an 11% increase in the region between 2010 and 2015, from 45,009 to 49,950 people.
The data also states that fly in/fly out miners will decrease from 19,230 to 10,615 in the same period.
The CME declined to comment further when contacted by MINING DAILY.
“This Government is ensuring it is doing everything humanly possible to stay ahead of the game and provide sufficient land for residential development over the next few years,” Day said in State Parliament on Wednesday.
“In the past financial year, conditional approval was given to 968 residential lots in the Pilbara.
“As of June of this year, 1635 residential lots also had conditional subdivision approval in the region.”
By comparison, 873 lots had conditional approval and 1036 had conditional subdivision approval in 2006-07.
“I am not suggesting that all the issues have been dealt with, indeed, they will be ongoing, but we are in a better situation,” Day said.
Reg Howard-Smith also claimed that Government-owned Landcorp was causing land supply problems in the Pilbara.
In a statement provided to MINING DAILY, LandCorp said it had been “working flat out getting land onto the market.”
“Nearly 1000 lots have been released in the last three years with many more releases planned in the near future,” the company said.
“LandCorp recognises that resources sector boom times are cyclical and is working with other areas of Government to get the land market ready in anticipation of another major uplift in the economy.”
“Apart from land development, LandCorp has also been working with the private sector to bring housing alternatives to the region, including those with fast construction times.
“By bringing greater diversity and choice to regional housing through a mix of lot sizes, this approach helps address capacity of the building industry.”
Howard-Smith claimed the Government had set up the Pilbara Regional Planning Committee months ago to deal with the issue, but it had limited scope and no terms of reference.
Day did not reveal when the Committee would receive the terms of reference, but outlined its Initial objectives that had been endorsed by the WA Planning Commission.