WA Today

A Perth developer planning to build beach houses and a $70 million five-star hotel overlooking the Indian Ocean near Margaret River will lodge a development application early in the new year.

But the proposal, just south of Gnarabup Beach, has sparked community concern and high-profile opponents including musician John Butler and former pro surfer Taj Burrow.

The Shire of Augusta Margaret River council will consider a community-driven amendment to the local planning scheme at its meeting on Wednesday to rezone the land out from under Saracen Properties, which purchased the oceanside lots in 2019 for about $5.5 million.

Preserve Gnarabup, a community interest group opposing the developments, is calling on councillors to back the amendment, or at least try and reserve as much land as it can.

Spokeswoman Beth Carlessi said Preserve Gnarabup encouraged elected members to consider the full social and economic value of the land to local people and the environment.

“Preserve Gnarabup and a large section of the community believe retaining Gnarabup headland in its undeveloped state should be a priority over some other planned council expenditure,” she said.

“We ask the councillors to initiate the amendment to reserve as many lots as councillors feel the council can afford.

“Initiating an amendment to reserve the land will send an important message on the value the community places on the land to the state government.

“Development of this site will detract from a world-class natural eco-tourism attraction. We believe another, more suitable site should be found for this resort.”

Local government staff, however, have recommended council not back the planning change, as it was unlikely to be approved by Planning Minister Rita Saffioti, who would have final say on an amendment.

A staff report to council said even if the amendment was approved, it could result in the Shire having to pay compensation of at least $5.5 million or even more.

“The financial consequences to the Shire of borrowing to fund the compensation would be significant and would extend over 20 years,” the report said.

“A cost benefit analysis has not been undertaken to evaluate the relative environmental, social and financial value of protecting the subject land as compared to other land parcels, where the same outcome could be achieved for the same or less investment.”

The report outlined how the shire had a limited financial capacity to buy the land back or provide compensation.

A $5.5 million loan would increase the council’s debt load to a projected balance of $14 million, come June 30.

Councils at the shire have had a history of rejecting development at the site over the past two decades.

Ahead of the meeting, shire president Ian Earl said the development had been contentious for some members of the community.

“[Proposals have] been around for almost a quarter of a century … decisions have been made where councils have had one position and the planning commission has come over the top, which is their right to do so,” he said.

“So it will probably be an interesting Wednesday night.”

A Saracen Properties spokesman said the company was progressing well with its development plans.

“We will be lodging a development application covering all our land early in the new year,” he said.

“In regards to the rezoning, the shire’s planning department has provided a pretty clear and well-reasoned recommendation to the council that it shouldn’t go ahead.

“We trust the elected members of the council to make the correct decision which, on balance, should be in the best interests of all the shire’s ratepayers and not just one actively vocal group seeking to prevent a development.”

The Gnarabup land is a possible habitat for the critically endangered western ringtail possum and there is also a registered Aboriginal heritage site at the location.

Premier Mark McGowan visited Margaret River in June to spruik the hotel development, which is slated to open in 2023.

The 120-bed Westin Margaret River Resort and Spa would be built on the southern headland of Gnarabup Beach to take advantage of Indian Ocean views, and plans to include restaurants, events facilities and access to the Cape to Cape Track.