Boom times put the squeeze on mining towns

AS NEW coal mines ramp up and existing mines expand to meet the growing global demand for the resource, central Queensland mining towns are thriving - but not without cost.
Boom times put the squeeze on mining towns Boom times put the squeeze on mining towns Boom times put the squeeze on mining towns Boom times put the squeeze on mining towns Boom times put the squeeze on mining towns

Mackay, Queensland

Staff Reporter

The price of living in towns like Emerald, Moranbah and Blackwater have skyrocketed in recent years, as mining companies snap up accommodation for their workers, making it difficult for lower income earners to rent or buy an affordable property.

Just two hours drive from the coastal town of Mackay, Moranbah is a purpose-built coal-mining town in the Shire of Belyando, servicing workers from nearby BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) coal mines at Peak Downs, Goonyella/Riverside and Broadmeadow in addition to Anglo Coal’s Moranbah North mine.

Property values have nearly doubled in Moranbah since 2001, with the median asking price for a house now in the vicinity of $A320,000.

Belyando Mayor Peter Freeleagus said while the coal industry is an important economic input to the town, the current resource boom and the resulting local property prices were creating social ramifications for the town.

“The issue for council is that the prices being charged for the homes are so exorbitant that its forcing families to move down to the coast and the husbands to come and live in single-mans camps,” he said.

The Belyando Council has set up a number of initiatives to establish affordable housing in the town and plan to have a couple of hundred blocks of land available to people within 18 months. The council is also looking to develop 10 housing units in Moranbah for lower income earners.

“The land that we’re going to throw on the market will have very tight conditions, it will be there for people who actually want to live in Moranbah, and bring up their families here – not for investors.”

“What we’re trying to do is turn the town into a community again, instead of an oversized single-man’s camp”

The town of Emerald, west of Rockhampton, is also experiencing the rapid development of local industry and infrastructure to support coal mining activities in the area, which include BMA Gregory and Crinum coal mines, Ensham Resources’ mine and Rio Tinto’s Kestrel operation.

Emerald Mayor Peter Maguire said rental prices in the town were anywhere from $300 to $600 a week, which was a real stretch for the basic wage earner and for many of the townspeople not earning a direct living from the mines.

In the year leading up to March 2001, the median house price in Emerald was $112,000. Fast forward six years and the median price has reached $310,000.

Duaringa Mayor Gary Howard said Blackwater, a dormitory town for six coal mines, has benefited hugely from the community contributions of the coal companies, who have recently helped fund a new gymnasium and swimming pool. But conversely, large companies and investors alike have been buying up houses and capitalising on the demand by charging exorbitant rent.

“There was a time here in town when you couldn’t give a house block away …now lower income earners are struggling to even afford the going rates,” Howard said.

The median house price in Blackwater reached $227,000 this year, compared to the bargain price of just $30,000 in the 12 months to March 2001.

With expansion works being carried out at BMA’s Blackwater mine and Wesfarmers Curragh mine, a large contractual work force has descended on the town, Howard says, with the companies promptly buying up houses to support the new staff.

He said the supply demand for housing in Blackwater, as in other towns, was slowed by the severe skills shortage felt across the state, as well as the lengthy process of free-holding council owned land.

Howard said a private developer was currently in the process of developing 74 blocks of land in town, and Council was going through the process of free-holding another 70 blocks - with all of the properties expected to sell quickly.

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To see median house prices of select Queenland towns, click here.

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