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The workforce influx: a marketplace view

cvi   The influx of workers associated with the Pacific Highway upgrade is beginning to make its presence felt in the valley; the Independent spoke with Elders Real Estate Yamba licensee Vikki Seekamp and Stephen Kelly, manager of Stella Motel Yamba, which specialises in workforce accommodation. Ms Seekamp, who is a real estate representative on the Clarence Roundtable – “a communication tool to aid business, industry and the community throughout the Infrastructure BOOM,” according to the Clarence Valley Council’s website – , says the upgrade north of Ballina had already resulted in “quite a change in the demographic of people coming to town every weekend”. “A year ago, we would have been looking at a week’s [holiday] accommodation, but now it’s also Friday to Saturday night, [with people] coming down for two nights because of the road being improved all of the time,” she said. “On Friday the phone rings with people wanting last minute bookings; so we’re getting a lot of people from the Gold Coast and Brisbane, in particular, coming down for weekends.” Ms Seekamp said her agency has the region’s “highest number of holiday managements”, and that some holiday unit owners have changed their rentals from holiday to permanent. She said around eight owners had made the change, with others considering conversions, too. “If they [the unit owners] consider it economically viable they will transfer to permanent rentals,” she said. “The people taking up these rentals are looking for top of the hill, fully furnished properties. A perusal of permanent properties for rent showed that the top rentals were fetching up to $590 a week. She said permanent residents on her books have not been negatively affected, apart from paying “CPI increases; $20 to $30 a week”. “We haven’t had any cases where tenants have been given notice and the rent’s gone up $150 a week,” she said. “I think there’s been a lot of hype around the town about that, but I can’t speak for other agencies.” Do you envisage holiday accommodation being negatively affected due to owners changing their properties from holiday to permanent lettings? “There are still plenty of properties available,” she said. Stephen Kelly said about 20 workers on average stayed at the Stella Motel, which has around 50 rooms. “Their stays have varied from two weeks to two months since October last year,” he said. “It’s the early stages, [“preliminary” workers like] tree munchers, bulldozer drivers, fencers, those kinds of blokes.” He thinks the boom will last longer than the anticipated five years – “more like eight to 10,” – and that it will be an economic boon for the valley. “It’s going to be huge for Yamba and the Lower Clarence; chuck a gaol in and the Grafton bridge, Lawrence bridge and more,” he said. He had his doubts about any workers camps being built, “due to water and sewer charges [levied by the council] for each dwelling”. Ms Seekamp’s role on the Clarence Roundtable includes giving updates “on what’s happening, as far as vacancy rates and take up, [and] what the market is doing”.