Severe housing shortage limits regional Tasmanian growth despite booming jobs sector

Greenham's meat processing plant at Smithton is one of the biggest employers in the region. Picture: File
Greenham's meat processing plant at Smithton is one of the biggest employers in the region. Picture: File

Years of borrowed time seem to have finally caught up with one sleepy Tasmanian municipality.

Circular Head, in north-west Tasmania, has "enjoyed" a recent boom in both job opportunities and property buyers. But now that boom has been eclipsed by a "severely constrained" housing market.

For Tarkine Coast Progress Association president John McNab, the issue comes as no surprise, although perhaps a little earlier than anticipated.

"We've been working on this for five years," he said. "We knew it was coming ... it's finally caught up with us."

He said one of his major concerns was housing for an expected influx of workers linked to upcoming major projects, including renewable energy parks at Robbins Island and Jim's Plain.

"There's going to be a lot of jobs coming along," he said.

"Not only during the construction but ongoing I understand there to be something like 60 jobs. And at the moment there's absolutely no rentals around."

Smithton. Picture: Brodie Weeding

Smithton. Picture: Brodie Weeding

He said part of the issue was a "lack of interest" in development.

"There's quite a lot of land that is already zoned residential around Circular Head," he said.

"The people who own it aren't really interested in subdividing or building, or it might be swampy and unsuitable for housing."

Greenham's meat processing plant at Smithton is a major employer in the region, and also regularly employs overseas workers from the Pacific Islands.

Livestock manager Graeme Pretty said the lack of housing was an issue for the company's recruitment process.

"There is a shortage of rentals and other accommodation, and yes, it's very difficult for us to bring workers to this end at the moment," he said.

He said many of the company's workers from the Pacific Islands were "very, very happy" in Tasmania, and were hoping to bring their families over and settle long-term in the area.

"The only real accomodation we've been able to get for them is caravan parks and stuff," he explained.

'Tasmania is much safer than the mainland'

"Not that there's anything wrong with caravan parks, it's just not really the best long term. They work hard all week and then they can't go home to a yard with a veggie patch and a garden or whatever.

"We've got a wonderful part of the world to live in over here and it doesn't surprise me at all."

Circular Head mayor Daryl Quilliam said Circular Head had spent a long time resting on the laurels of cheaper rent and housing prices than in other places, but that the council was well aware of the "major problem" cropping up.

"It's something we'll be looking at closely this year," he said.

"We need a lot more houses here. And my understanding is that rentals have gone up $100 a week in the last 12 months ... we're concerned that it's going to get worse.

"We're trying to encourage people to build more places. I know of a couple of developments underway, both affordable and upmarket that council is processing."

He theorised that part of the issue was an recent flux of buyers from the mainland, snapping up properties online without even seeing them in person.

"People are seeing that Tasmania is much safer than the mainland," he said.

"And some people have got sick of droughts and bushfires. And why wouldn't they want to live here?

"We've got plenty of jobs, but if we're going to get more people with need to get more houses."

This story The Catch-22 of a jobs boom in regional Australia first appeared on The Advocate.