By ERWIN CHLANDA
When the Central Council of the Territory’s ruling party meets in Alice Springs tomorrow and Sunday it can expect an ear bashing for its politicians’ neglect of the town, while they are hyperventilating over Darwin’s new draft master plan signaling the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars.
At the same time, the Country Liberal councilors may ask, where are the Alice Springs entrepreneurs, now that there is a government pledged to make their life easy? Of course, the apparent absence of smart and courageous players in the local economy is a subject about which the party may like to do some internal soul searching.
Alice Chamber of Commerce CEO Kay Eade is grappling with similar questions. She says the town has been in a slump since the Federal Intervention has scaled back, SIHIP, the Aboriginal housing initiative, and the upgrading of town camps – projects worth close to $1b – have come to an end, and stimulus money has dried up.
“We’re back to where we were in 2010,” says Ms Eade.
We’re in a tailspin: people are leaving town which means fewer service industries are needed which means more people are leaving town. There is a bright side right now, it’s easy for find tradies to fix your air conditioner or upgrade your kitchen.
Used to be spoon fed from the public purse, local businesses are failing to come up with substantial projects of their own.
Asks Ms Eade: “Where are the business people who see an opportunity, analyze it and if it stacks up, take the bull by the horns?”
She says all that’s on the go are the Sitzler building (the former Commonwealth Bank) in Parsons Street, tipped to get at least part of its income from leasing space to the NT Government for Supreme Court rooms.
The other is a block of “affordable accommodation” on the site of the defunct bowls club in Gap Road. This has a three year covenant to begin construction – but as can be seen with the Sitzler building, extensions can be obtained.
Melanka seems to be on the radar again, says Ms Eade, “redesigned to suit the budget,” but that would be money from interstate, from the Gilligan’s Backpackers Hotel & Resort in Cairns.
She says there is a lack of communication with the government. Treasurer Dave Tollner listens to “select people” on his business council.
Robyn Lambley is the only local Member communicating with the community – raising the question what Chief Minister Adam Giles and Tourism Minister Matt Conlan are up to.
Local companies are in limbo: They cannot forever retain idle staff and carry business expenses such as rent and car leasing without knowing where their next cheque will come from.
Ms Eade says the government has made it clear they will not significantly invest in assets but they will cut red tape, release land and pay for services, such as a child care centre, from private providers. But so far, she says, the next step – investors coming forward – is slow in coming.
Is it the judgment of the local entrepreneurs that there is no opportunity in Central Australia to make a dollar from private enterprise? It seems so.
Mr Giles is ebullient about Darwin’s future – maybe even including a light rail. Commenting on the master plan draft unveiled yesterday he said: “With careful planning Darwin will become the jewel at the top of Australia’s crown, with economic prosperity, new business opportunities, more jobs and a promising future for all. We can build a thriving city that will become an example to the rest of the world of life in the tropics.”
This is in sharp contrast to Alice Springs. Its master plan, drawn up in 2008, had a 1200-plus block industrial, commercial and residential subdivision south of The Gap at its core.
That has shriveled to 30 residential blocks, which now have to be developed by the government because no private business would have a go.
Ms Eade says 30 blocks are not economically viable for a private developer. She concedes that the government would have offered the opportunity to develop 100 or more blocks – but there were no takers.
She says it seems the future of Alice is likely to be as a supply and support centre for mining in the region. However, the mines now on the drawing board may take up 10 years to go into production.
PHOTOS: Model of potential redevelopment of Frances Bay and its relationship to the Darwin City Centre. Light rail without overhead cables in Bordeaux, France, servicing a population of 200,000 people.
Neglect of Alice to be on Country Liberals' agenda?
By ERWIN CHLANDA