Pilbara stuck in last century, Barnett

Underdeveloped towns and facilities in Western Australia's Pilbara mining area are making it difficult for the region to attract and retain employees, Premier Colin Barnett said in exclusive interview with MINING DAILY.

Underdeveloped towns and facilities in Western Australia’s Pilbara mining area are making it difficult for the region to attract and retain employees, Premier Colin Barnett said in exclusive interview with AUSTRALIAN MINING.

Barnett has unveiled a strategic mix of city and regional projects to be built throughout the State.

Key among the plans is a $500 million development of the Pilbara.

“One of the great issues for the Pilbara is that the towns have not really advanced that much since the 1960s and the 1970s,” Barnett said.

“There is a shortage of housing, but much of what was built in that period is not what is needed in the 21st century.

“They are now 40 years old and the facilities and the community services are just not up to scratch.”

In addition to the housing and facilities failing to meet modern standards, prices in Pilbara’s housing market have skyrocketed.

“People are paying between $2,000 and $3,000 a week to rent a fairly typical home up there,” Barnett said.

“I’ve heard of examples of young people paying $300 a week to rent a room.”

What is needed for the plan to successfully move ahead is simple, Barnett said.

“It’s not rocket science.”

“If you take Port Hedland, there’s nothing either side for 200 km on the coast, either way.

“I don’t accept that you can’t develop new land along there.

“The State government needs to release some land.”

According to Barnett, Fortescue’s recent announcement that they will halt expansion in the region will have little impact on potential improvement of infrastructure in Pilbara.

The expansion of projects may slow somewhat, but there will remain a huge amount of activity in the region, he said.

“There is going to be continuing pressure on housing and facilities.”

Development of regional Western Australia, especially areas involved with mining, has been a priority of the short time Barnett has been in power, but his government’s job has been made more difficult by the inaction of the previous Labor government, he said.

“There’s been an extraordinary lack of activity on approving projects and dealing with issues.”

“Myself, as Minister for State Development, and most of the other ministers, in what’s really only our fifth week in government, are just dealing with fairly routine or minor issues.

“There’s a lot of hum-drum stuff that hasn’t been attended to, and all of the ministers are working through the backlog.”

Moving ahead with plans to improve infrastructure in regional Western Australia is essential for the future of the State’s future growth, and the lifestyles of its population, Barnett said.

“Provide a better quality of life,” he said.

“It’s a role for government, and industry, including the property industry, to bring up the living conditions and quality of housing to the standard that is attractive today.

“Other parts of the world have turned arid environments into very liveable communities, and we need to do the same in the Pilbara.”

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