Crisis point hits

Towers and affordable living must be on the agenda.
Towers and affordable living must be on the agenda.

AN EMERALD real estate agent has challenged the State Government to divert one month's coal royalties to struggling Bowen Basin towns to build affordable rental accommodation or face an exodus of service industry workers.

CD Adams principal Clinton Adams said it wasn't a looming crisis, but a situation already "critical" with rental prices skyrocketing by up to 30% in the past three months.

The property market isn't immune either - with 30-year-old mine houses and newly built homes rising by about $50,000 in the same period, taking ownership further out of reach for non-miners.

Even billionaire Clive Palmer's company Waratah Coal has acknowledged his $8.3 billion China First project in the Galilee Basin would give rise to 'further housing shortages and higher house prices and rental costs' in an EIS released last week.

Mr Adams called on Bowen Basin councils to relax building height restrictions and consider fast-tracking modular 'towers' which could contain 140 rooms and be constructed in a matter of weeks.

"Honestly, it's like a cancer when these rents start to increase sharply and it is a supply and demand situation… and it has gone berserk," he said.

"I've got more than 100 applications on my books and no properties.

"Unfortunately the almighty dollar wins out and the people who really need accommodation, the engine room of the community, are the people who don't earn the money and aren't having the opportunity to stay in the town where a lot of them grew up.

"It's sad and we've got to do something about it.

"The pressure has to come down - if Anna Bligh could see her way clear to say the government could redirect coal royalties for one month, we could supply her with a service industry in Emerald and surrounding areas to make sure the coal is dug out for the next 10 years.

"This is a crisis point, and if you don't own a house in Emerald and are at the beck and call of the rental market, it's going to be a very sad period of time and the human fallout of people leaving Emerald is real.

Mr Adams acknowledged business owners and commercial operators were all fighting to find and retain staff in the face of the big wages on offer at the Bowen Basin mines.

But he was quick to add mining companies had to realise without the bus drivers, cooks, shop assistants, ordinary and professional workers, towns would wither away.

"It is getting to the point where mining companies or mines have got to have a serious talk with council," Mr Adams said.

"We've got large mines all around worth billions of dollars, but unfortunately there's a critical human factor to it all where we face not having service industry workers in towns. "We need towers, we need affordable housing and rentals and if possible, we need to have some private and mining input."

Mr Adams said suitable land had been identified in the Emerald CBD for the service worker towers, the occupancy of which he proposed was means-tested. The Queensland Government collected $1.786 billion in coal royalties in the June 2010 financial year.

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