Affordable housing, developing the Blackall Range and Council budget cuts … Mayor Mark Jamieson talks to Hinterland Times editor Michael Berry.
Dr Ian Manning’s recent report on local government says that housing affordability was one of the issues you ought to be able to fix. Do you have a solution?
Well we have seen how the ULDA, in pulling the planning systems apart, has been trying to give opportunity to develop smaller lots, more intensive housing and the like. Whilst all that has been happening, the economic impacts on the property market on the Coast have been sending property prices down anyway. Ultimately, it’s relative to how confident people feel about their long-term future from an employment point of view as to whether or not they are going to spend money. Supply and demand have changed dramatically in recent times. I mean there are housing buys on the Sunshine Coast now that would be better than any new properties that will come to market any time soon. That will be a factor until the economy starts to spurt again. Then people will have confidence and create demand by starting to buy. Increased supply will then push prices up again.
But how can Council help create property that is affordable?
It depends on what people need. Keep in mind, the social change in terms of family structure has changed and therefore creating a different demand.
For example, I understand there are lots of smaller affordable properties being sold at Bell’s Reach in the Caloundra area, targeted at individuals. They’re selling like hot cakes. Now, whether those properties are being bought by owner occupiers or investors is the question, and I don’t have the answer to that.
Changing family structures are giving people options. Not everyone wants three and four bedroom homes these days, so demand is much more diverse. There are those who want an affordable place to live, but they want it in an environment where they can easily get to entertainment, be closer to their employment, be closer to the shops and to the places they want to enjoy.
And how can Council stimulate that variety of options?
Council through its planning scheme can participate in the process to help determine those outcomes. But ultimately it’s the developers and their reading of the market that will count in any particular sector.
Dr Manning also said that the Blackall Range, and Maleny in particular, were a secret that made it open to future growth opportunities. Do you agree with him?
I am surprised that Dr Manning hadn’t recognised Maleny and the Blackall Range. I don’t think it’s a secret. I think it’s a well known part of south-east Queensland, certainly of the Sunshine Coast. I think it does have potential to develop, but largely by virtue of the people who choose to live there.
They are mainly people who are looking to the big economic engine that’s being built around Caloundra and Maroochydore to provide them with long-term employment.
It becomes a lifestyle and financial decision as to whether they want to live close to the beach or on the Range or further into the Hinterland.
So you’re not seeing big Clive Palmer-style resorts on the Range?
I guess you have to consider proposals as they are put forward. It’s hard to rule things in or out when there’s not much around. I have seen enormous changes along the Range during the past 10 and 20 years and that will continue to occur.
But if a developer came along with a 1000 room accommodation proposal and attached golf course, supermarket and exclusive shops, would that sit easily with you?
Well, it would clearly be an impact assessable proposal. That would mean the community would need to be consulted. And in the current environment I tend to think there would be a lot of people who would be happy about it in terms of the employment opportunities it would offer, as well as the diversity of shopping that it would create. But there are others who would see it as a movement away from the green values of the Range.
But surely you have an ethical view about such applications?
I think it would be foolish for me as mayor to rule things in or out hypothetically. It’s a bit like those questions I am asked about the potential for casinos. I have seen no applications for casinos on the Sunshine Coast. It would be futile to say I am avidly for or against such things.
You have announced there will be cuts of $9 million, or 6 per cent of the capital works program. Can you say what those cuts will be?
I can’t give you a specific list of items, but I can let you know the priorities we put around cuts to our operational costs. There are things like community and social benefits, environmental impacts, risk assessment in terms of downsides if we don’t do this or that. Clearly, there are financial considerations. Then there are the demands from our constituents for things to be done. In the end though, we have so much money to spend and we distribute it around in the most effective way.
Who sets those parameters?
These are internal processes that have been in place from past councils. But in addition to those particular weightings, there is the importance of asset renewal. Things like bridges that are past their use-by date and need to be repaired or replaced, have to be a higher priority. Some of the challenges we’ve had from flood- damaged roads need to be considered a priority too. There are also projects of a regional significance that can help us attract new industries, or new employment opportunities.
I would expect our officers to go through that capital list using the criteria I have outlined and say which are the things that need to be pared back or discounted altogether. And the process will be more of the paring back than the dropping of a project.
At the end of the day we are trying to bring down a budget that is perceived as being fair and affordable in terms of what ratepayers are prepared to pay. It’s either – must have, nice to have or maybe we don’t need it projects.