Planning change for the better

Anyone familiar with the classic Westerns knows that when the big guns come riding into town, that town is in for a real shake-up. Whatever the outcome of the inevitable shootout, come sun-up life will have fundamentally changed.

Things might be a little more civilised in 21st century Western Australia, but outsiders can still wreak havoc if townsfolk are not prepared for the onslaught of change. 

Broome is a town at the crossroads after the State Government announced James Price Point, 60km north of the tourist hotspot, as the site for the Kimberley liquefied natural gas (LNG) hub. 

As big guns go, this is right up there — a multi-billion dollar driver industry that will have a profound impact on the communities of the Kimberley, and Broome in particular. Just how these communities emerge when the construction stage dust has settled depends on the planning for the arrival. Town planners and policy makers cannot be reactive, they must be proactive.

There is no doubt that with such a major piece of infrastructure on its doorstep Broome will experience a massive demographic change. The nature of the project attracts a far more diverse workforce than is currently the case. The industry and employment base  of the town will expand substantial, as will the resident population with the incoming people likely to expect more particular lifestyle options and amenity levels than has been the case up to this point.

Some town planners tend to think, ‘well, have we got enough land to cater for this influx of workers’, and once they’ve sorted where they’re going to put them, and whether the utilities are adequate, they move on. 

But land is only part of the equation. If a town like Broome is to profit from the arrival of the big guns it is essential to adopt an integrated planning strategy that considers everything from the changing employment base and residential requirements to environmental sustainability.

The scale of this project will position Broome as the major centre of the Kimberley  well into the future, but only if the planning is done properly. For lessons in how not to do it, planners, governments and community leaders need only look a little further south, to the Pilbara town of Karratha.Karratha is dominated by the resources sector, indeed it is the reason for its existence, but the general planning for the town across the board has tended to be reactive and ad hoc. One of the negative results of this approach is the fact that the tourism sector in Karratha is virtually non-existent, a situation that will take a long time to rectify.

And Broome has more to lose. It has a strong tourism base, the impact of an overheated local economy could be catastrophic long term. The planning strategy must consider how it can retain what is good about the town without losing sight of the need for change. This doesn’t just happen, it has to be planned.

Whatever the shelf life of this driver industry, planning must not only factor in how to accommodate the changes it will bring over the duration, but how the community will cope once it’s gone. When the big guns move on to the next town, as they inevitably do, those left behind want to be able to celebrate the changes they brought, not mourn what might have been.