Hol­i­day home crack­down

Augusta Margaret River Times - - Front Page - War­ren Hately

Coun­cil­lors have di­rected un­der­the-pump Shire of Augusta-Mar­garet River plan­ning staff to crack down on un­reg­is­tered hol­i­day home op­er­a­tors in the re­gion.

Ini­tially, $25,000 was set aside to re­cruit a part-time com­pli­ance of­fi­cer to curb the ram­pant growth of un­reg­is­tered providers on plat­forms such as Airbnb, but at Wed­nes­day night’s coun­cil meet­ing, $10,000 was pulled to fund fur­ther re­search.

Strong in­ter­est in the Airbnb de­bate at­tracted a packed pub­lic gallery as coun­cil­lors added amend­ments to their wish list for plan­ning re­forms.

A lengthy, po­lite, but com­plex de­bate, which drew in Shire sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor Dale Put­land, over­shad­owed new changes to the short-stay ac­com­mo­da­tion pol­icy.

The $10,000 would in­stead go to hir­ing a con­sul­tant to look at over­ar­ch­ing plan­ning mech­a­nisms such as a scheme amend­ment to wind back hol­i­day homes, in­clud­ing within the pri­or­ity agri­cul­ture and res­i­den­tial zones.

“This dis­rup­tion is some­thing we can have greater con­trol over through tight­en­ing our plan­ning con­trols,” Shire pres­i­dent Pam Town­shend said.

Sev­eral coun­cil­lors voiced wor­ries about un­der­min­ing the Shire’s com­pli­ance fight­back — the main feed­back dur­ing the pub­lic advertising pe­riod from reg­is­tered op­er­a­tors who want il­le­gal ri­vals pros­e­cuted — and Dr Put­land said the coun­cil re­quest was a chal­lenge that might take longer than coun­cil­lors wanted.

The de­bate hit a hur­dle as Cr Naomi God­den added a work­shop to the coun­cil res­o­lu­tion so elected mem­bers could give di­rect in­struc­tions to the con­sul­tant. “What I’d like is more than a half-hour brief­ing,” she said, “which is what we usu­ally get on these things.

“This isn’t step­ping into that op­er­a­tional space, but mak­ing sure the will and in­tent of the coun­cil is rep­re­sented.”

Deputy Shire pres­i­dent Ju­lia Mel­drum added: “I have felt in the past some of the pro­cesses have prob­a­bly not been ro­bust enough for our coun­cil.”

Dr Put­land said the plan­ners were over­worked, with staff on stress leave, and a con­sul­tant with no vested in­ter­ests in the hol­i­day in­dus­try was needed.

“We haven’t even re­ally got a han­dle on where the hol­i­day homes are in the shire be­cause we just don’t have the staff,” he said.

“We have some is­sues at the mo­ment with staff and stress.”

Fur­ther­more, plan­ners were work­ing on a re­view of the Shire’s ma­jor lo­cal plan­ning scheme, and the added work would cost more money and cre­ate de­lays.

Dr Put­land noted a “com­plex amend­ment” was re­quired to com-

bat Airbnb and “eco­nomic pro­tec­tion” was not a cri­te­ria con­sid­ered by over­seers at the WA Plan­ning Com­mis­sion.

The $10,000 would be ex­hausted “pretty quickly,” he said.

“The staff are al­ready con­sid­er­ably over­loaded,” Cr Earl said.

As part of the res­o­lu­tion, the Shire would also write to Airbnb look­ing for ways to list whether ad­ver­tised hol­i­day homes had ad­e­quate ap­provals. Added to the mo­tion was a re­quest to de­velop a logo reg­is­tered op­er­a­tors could dis­play, which Cr Pauline McLeod said would add value to op­er­a­tors.

Cr McLeod also or­dered com­mis­sion of a re­search pa­per, work­ing with stu­dents and aca­demics from an as-yet-uniden­ti­fied univer­sity to ex­am­ine cul­tural, so­cial, and eco­nomic con­se­quences of Airbnb.

Cr God­den later added “en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts” to that list.

The meet­ing also heard from Mar­garet River-Bus­sel­ton Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion co-chief ex­ec­u­tive Sharna Kear­ney, and Robert Mac­Don­ald, spokesman for the newly formed Reg­is­tered Ac­com­mo­da­tion Providers Mar­garet River Re­gion who said Airbnb and re­lated plat­forms’ in­flu­ence was dis­rupt­ing com­mu­ni­ties world­wide, squeez­ing res­i­dents out of af­ford­able homes, and chang­ing the char­ac­ter of tourism hotspots.

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