'No need for camps': Gladstone loses workers' money to camps

IT'S the elephant in the room --- or all 1392 rooms --- of the Gladstone community that if it closed it would help struggling property owners, businesses, investors and real estate agents.

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Estate agent Alicia Williams is calling for the closure of Homeground Villages at Calliope as the region struggles with the commodity downturn, an unemployment rate increase by 1.6% in a year and a housing oversupply.

She said if workers moved back into Gladstone they could keep the economy afloat but as long as they were kept in Calliope the town would continue to miss out. The workers camp opened in late 2011 with WICET signing the first contract to avoid any negative impacts its projects might have on Gladstone's housing market.

OUT OF  TOWN LUXURY: Homeground Gladstone Villages Gladstone had 13 guests at one point in December making the aggreement with ConocoPhilips an important piece of financial security.  Photo Campbell Gellie / The Observer
OUT OF TOWN LUXURY: Homeground Gladstone Villages Gladstone had 13 guests at one point in December making the aggreement with ConocoPhilips an important piece of financial security. Photo Campbell Gellie / The Observer Homeground Villages Gladston e

At the time the median rental price of a two bedroom unit was $320 a week.

Now Homeground houses shutdown workers for ConocoPhillips and Rio Tinto Yarwun as well as the majority of the remaining Bechtel workers as the median price for a two bedroom unit is now $180.

"There is just no need for those camps anymore now the construction is over and the workers are here for maintenance," Ms Williams said. "There is a complete oversupply of houses and from the community point of view they should be putting money back into our local economy. A lot of people out there are in financial stress and don't know what to do."

But the manager of Homeground, Matt Jones, said the company believed there would be more construction in Gladstone and the camp was needed.

He also said Homeground was "not a competitor" to the housing market.

"Guests at the village are free to move about as they wish and regularly visit Gladstone," he said.

"Unfortunately there is an oversupply in the housing market in Gladstone.

Homeground is a workforce accommodation provider specialising in the provision of accommodation for large work groups for specified periods which are sometimes as short as one or two nights."

But Ms Williams wants a community meeting and proposed closing the camp is the first step.

"At the moment they're taking away a lot of opportunity from the town," she said.

She has also suggested targeting the tax exemption employers received for keeping their workers at Homeground.

Companies don't have to pay the 49% Fringe Benefits Tax if their workers eat and sleep at Homeground but if they are in Gladstone the tax applies. "If you look at the opportunity that costs us, it would spread across the community to cleaners, gardeners and would be far better for the workers than one centralised camp."

Under the legislation, an employer has to pay the tax if the location of the accommodation is within 40km of a city the size of Gladstone.

Homeground is 28km away, but its exempt because the legislation uses an old road network from July 1986 to measure its distances.

When the Homeground and ConocoPhillips contract was signed in January this year, Harbour Sails Motor Inn owner Lawrie Mawer said "it sucked" companies were benefiting from workers not staying in town while he suffered 20-25% occupancy rates.

Across the road at Mid City Motor Inn manager Kunal Bhatt wanted the majority of Bechtel workers that were relocated to Homeground when the camps on Curtis Island closed in April to come and stay in town.

"Most of them won't come into town and will just spend money at the camp," he said.

"If they come to (live in) Gladstone they will have options for food and be able to have a life."

Ms Williams admits the self-interest with her business Locations Estate Agents but says there's also property investors who are doing it tough with empty rental properties.

But Homeground isn't immune from the downturn either with the camp just breaking even in the first half of this financial year with 13% occupancy rates until December.

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