Shock as DevelopmentWA quietly quits 25-year Gracetown project plan

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Surfers watch the swell at North Point, Gracetown.
Camera IconSurfers watch the swell at North Point, Gracetown. Credit: Tourism Western Australia/Supplied

The State Government’s development arm has quietly walked away from long-held ambitions for a contentious major project at Gracetown.

Subject to community protests for more than two decades, the proposed high-end 140-lot development off Salter Street no longer featured in DevelopmentWA’s project list.

The State Government-owned property was last valued at about $4.1 million.

At the same time, residents are alarmed at the move and fear it could lead to an even worse situation if the land was passed on to private developers who might float an even more ambitious project under direct arbitration by WA’s State Development Assessment Unit.

In that scenario, the existing plans for the site that included environmental controls might no longer apply.

Documents obtained by Surfrider Margaret River under Freedom of Information confirmed DevelopmentWA had an “exit strategy” for its stalled project.

In October 2021, the board met to discuss the plan, as noted in documents provided by Surfrider as part of its ongoing campaign to show coastal fire risks made any major developments at the coast ill advised.

Those redacted board minutes confirmed fire safety was a key reason for the agency’s withdrawal.

“DevelopmentWA has been unable to progress the development of the land principally due to the WA Planning Commission being unprepared to support development approvals pending resolution of construction of a second access road for bushfire risk mitigation and native title,” the report said.

“Support from local and State Government has waned, and there remains significant objection to coastal development from the local community.”

The meeting recommended Gracetown be removed from the agency’s strategic development plan and support then sought from the State Government to credit DevelopmentWA $4.1 million for future acquisitions.

“Alternatively, reimbursement of historic expenditure of up to $4.1 million from the site’s future sales revenue may be pursued,” the report said.

“Stakeholders including the minister for lands, DPLH (Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage), the WAPC (WA Planning Commission) and the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River will need to be sensitively informed of any decision to exit the project.”

A spokesperson for the agency was tight-lipped in response to Times inquiries about the project future as well as what would be done with the land.

“DevelopmentWA is not pursuing the development of the Gracetown project,” he said.

The agency passed further inquiries to State Government land owner, the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage.

DPLH did not respond to Times enquiries before deadline.

Gracetown Cowaramup Bay Community group president Richard Muirhead believed the DevelopmentWA decision had caught other agencies unaware and feared there was no plan in the wake of the exit strategy except to sell the prized landholding to private developers.

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