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Deputy Mayor makes blunt assessment of council support for local construction industry

Deputy Mayor Terry James has called on fellow councillors to acknowledge Cairns is in the grip of a two-speed construction market, with local builders and small-scale developments seemingly forgotten in the rush to welcome international investors.

Cr James told TropicNow that councillors needed a reality check about the true state of the construction industry, with the excitement about Crystalbrook Collection's $370 million hotel projects and a strong tourism industry masking the lack of building activity across the city.

"There is a bit of a black hole once you look beyond those couple of major projects, and I can see that because I'm from the industry," Cr James, a building designer, said.

"But it has been hard to convince the other councillors of that because they see a few cranes on the skyline, they see tourism doing really well and they think everthing is going along OK.

"In terms of the incentive program, we do need to clear up what we're doing with that.

"We should either have a blanket approach where all developers receive waivers or discounts on headworks, or none of them do. It needs to be consistent but at the moment we're doing it on a case-by-case basis and I've been saying for some time to councillors that isn't the best approach."

The Deputy Mayor's blunt assessment was echoed by local industry figures who spoke to TropicNow following our article on this issue yesterday.  

One local architect said: "From our experience in our practice, smaller scale developments receive no headworks incentives to progress.

"They also take very substantially longer to receive planning approvals than the large scale developments, which are quite literally being cheered on through council’s planning committee, seemingly in order to provide photo opportunities and media headlines for prominent councillors."

The architect said small-scale developments were not receiving the same "extremely preferential" treatment on relaxations of planning laws such as carparking that are being given to the large scale developments.

"Because of these disparities, there has never existed a situation in Cairns previously where there has been a more defined two-speed building market occurring," the architect, who asked for anonymity, told TropicNow.

"Outside the three large hotels underway, there is only a tiny amount of private development or investment in the industry.

"The next tier is quite literally made up of the private individual dwelling market and the normal taxpayer or ratepayer funded projects such as public housing and the odd school building.

"Talk by councillors of 'all the cranes on the horizon' is simply hubris."

A spokesperson for Cairns Regional Council defended the organisation's approach towards incentives and support for local builders and developers.

The spokesperson said council has a "streamlined process that, on average, takes approximately 20 days from lodgement to approval."

Other key points in council's response were:

• Council's current headworks charges are 25 per cent lower than the maximum specified by the State Government

• The current round of the incentive program is nearing completion, with four projects remaining eligible for a financial incentives

• The incentive program is not currently open for applications, but developers can apply for assistance at any time

“Projects that contribute to job creation, vibrancy of the city or which provide a general economic benefit to the region will generally be considered favourably for financial incentives,” the spokesperson said.


The council spokesperson also pushed back at local builders after they raised concerns with TropicNow about waiting “months and months” to get a response and approval through council’s complex planning process, while interstate and international developers are given a perceived advantage.

“Delays can arise when the applicant has not provided all the information required or there are inconsistencies with planning guidelines," the spokesperson said.

“Council officers make themselves available to meet applicants prior to lodgement of a development application to assist in meeting criteria for approval.

“Applicants that actively engage with council throughout this process can usually achieve approval in the minimum timeframe.”