BITTER PILL: Hugh Bridge has been stung with $21,000 in infrastructure charges.
BITTER PILL: Hugh Bridge has been stung with $21,000 in infrastructure charges. MIKE RICHARDS

Council fees are killing development, business owners say

BUREAUCRACY is killing the development of small business in Gladstone.

That's the view of many people spoken to by The Observer in the past few weeks, but very few are prepared to go on the record because of fears their future applications with the council might be put to the bottom of the pile.

An article last month about infrastructure fees has resulted in a number of other property owners come out of the woodwork, who face the same dilemma.

Infrastructure charges always rate highly in the list of issues people have with the council, along with what seem to be unnecessary delays in getting permits and approvals signed off.

One business owner, who did not want to be named, said he had decided against a major expansion of his business because of the high infrastructure charges he was expected to pay to the council - charges of almost $1 million.

Infrastructure charges are intended to provide for upgrades to water supply, stormwater and sewerage systems to cope with a greater demand on the existing infrastructure.

The council changed its rules late last year and cut the charges by an average of two thirds, but property owners who were charged the higher fees believe they should now be paying the same new, lower fee.

The owner referred to the Cairns Regional Council where infrastructure charges had been discounted, resulting in many new business developments.

Bundaberg and Rockhampton councils, in his experience, were both keen to attract new business, he said.

"They would do anything in their power to get more business in their communities."

Neil St property owner Hugh Bridge is spitting tacks over a $21,000 infrastructure charge he's expected to pay to add a second warehouse on his commercial site.

He applied to the council in 2012 to build, and the new building was erected in 2013.

Since then he's been contesting the charge, pointing out that he had already paid infrastructure charges when he first bought the land and built the first warehouse.

The rules changed at the end of 2014. Had he made an application early this year that $21,000 would be around $7000 and he said that's the price he should now have to pay.

Council CEO Stuart Randle said the capping of infrastructure charges by the State Government was financially damaging to the fast-growing councils, but was of little to no consequence for the communities with no growth.

"The Gladstone region was the fastest growing in Queensland in 2012/13 at 4.1% and the second fastest in 2013/14," he said.

"By contrast, the growth rate in Cairns was subdued at 1.9% in 2013/14 and Bundaberg was stagnant at 0.6%."

"Gladstone Regional Council is very supportive of economic development, but does not take a development at-all-cost attitude," he said.

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