Securing Port Hedland's construction sites was one of the big concerns last week as cyclone Rusty approached the Pilbara coast, and Regional Development Minister Brendan Grylls said the anxiety reflected the level of work under way in the town where the State Government wants to encourage a permanent population base.
Speaking after the groundbreaking ceremony for Cedar Woods' subdivision in South Hedland, Mr Grylls said plans to upgrade Port Hedland's infrastructure were six to 12 months behind similar projects in Karratha.
"A lot of people put unrealistic time frames on what we are working on here without acknowledging the complexities of working in the Pilbara," he said.
As part of the Pilbara Cities program, the State Government wants to accelerate housing supply and amenities in regional towns to accommodate permanent populations and break the fly-in, fly-out cycle of the resources sector.
Funded by the Royalties for Regions scheme, the early focus has been on Karratha, Port Hedland, Newman and Onslow.
While welcoming the new home sites in the Cedar Woods project, Mr Grylls said the presence of bigger developers was helping to overcome the town's housing shortage, one of the barriers to the establishment of permanent communities.
"In the initial run the bigger name developers are good to have up here because they've got a reputation which means that when the complexities hit they want to drive through whereas that's a bit more difficult for some of the smaller developers," Mr Grylls said.
"That's not suggesting you don't have to have the evolution of no one interested, to someone interested to major interests and I think we have worked through that.
"We've got the majors interested and while it's nice to have the Finbar and Cedar Woods in town and developing, there's still a great opportunity for smaller developers to make a name for themselves."
Mr Grylls said establishing permanent communities in the Pilbara would also help bring down the region's high cost of doing business.
"The development of the Pilbara community, I think, is a really important driver for bringing the cost structure down because if you have a worker who is living in Perth and going to the airport he is very poachable at the airport to put a different coloured shirt on and fly to a different site," he said.
"While you've got to pay people more than the last job they had to attract them into the resource sector, then I think that's where the high costs come in."
Mr Grylls said conversations with companies in the Pilbara indicated few changes to the fly-in, fly-out workforce.
"The only commodity you have got here is dollars, and companies have done that, they've outbid each other and now they've got cost pressures," he said."I have conversations with the senior management and I doubt that their organisations have changed yet, but as we get to the point where cost structures are a problem then they have got to look to solutions," he said.
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