An impression of The Heights development, in Pimpama. Photo: Sunland Group.
Fadden, which covers the northern Gold Coast, is the fastest-growing federal electorate so infrastructure and housing are core election issues. The safe conservative electorate includes a mixture of rural and residential land and hosts a diverse industry base: tourism, market gardens, sugar cane farming, and light industry, including boat building.
The sleepy suburbs of the northern Gold Coast electorate of Fadden are growing at a rapid pace. With the population increase comes rising demand for more homes, facilities, roads and entertainment. The question is: are the residents ready?
For decades, there’s never been anything quite as painful for a Gold Coast resident than telling someone you live up north. You’re instantly bombarded with a series of "who, what, when, where and how" questions - our southern counterparts barely make it past Southport, let alone Oxenford. “Why do live all the way up there?” they ask.
For most southerners, the idea of Coomera (which, for the uninitiated, is one of the Gold Coast’s biggest northern suburbs) is basically Brisbane, and the area’s only drawcard is the beauty of ducking between Dreamworld and White Water World with a "locals" season pass. But all that has changed drastically over the past five years with an increase in population, the announcement of the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the hunger for a north coast foodie culture that had long been starved.
The Fadden electorate covers approximately 395 sq km of the northern Gold Coast, bounded by the Logan and Albert Rivers in the north, the Pacific Motorway to Coomera and suburbs from Oxenford to Gaven in the west, Molendinar and Labrador in the south, and the Pacific shore from the Gold Coast Seaway to Jumpinpin Inlet in the east.
The area itself has seen a growth in the thousands since the 2011 census count of 145,988, prompting calls for change in what had once been a sleepy haven for young families and retirees. The safe LNP seat has been represented by Stuart Robert since 2007.
Northern residents will soon reap the benefits of the Pacific Motorway exit 54 upgrade, which will relieve extreme traffic congestion from around five schools, all within 5km of one another. This too will make way for the shiny new Coomera Town Centre - a billion-dollar retail, office, government and entertainment development more than 20 years in the making - in time for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
A little further up the road at Pimpama (an area that was once farmland and is now one of the fastest-growing communities in Australia), the Gold Coast City Council have plans for a full 50m swimming pool and aquatic centre, so northerners no longer have to feel the sting of Smith Street Motorway if they want to travel to the multi-million dollar aquatic centre at Southport when they fancy an Olympic-sized dip.
The once-sleepy suburbs of the northern Gold Coast will soon play host to a glitter strip of their own, with under-wrap plans to erect an entertainment and tourism precinct – part of a $3billion boom at a Helensvale. Just a few hundred meters away, the party has already started. The northern Gold Coast’s existing “creative playground” Night Quarter comes alive on the weekends with market stalls, micro-restaurants, music and crowds, eager to enjoy the hipster food culture that for so long was only on offer for their southern counterparts.
These developments, to name a few, are just some of the changes the quieter ends of the Coast are all set to play host to over the next year, as work on thousands of new homes continues daily.
Fresh from the Gold Coast City Council elections in February, Deputy Mayor Donna Gates and Councillor for Division One (the city’s north) says there have been delays in getting these developments in place. “Yes, it has been a long time coming, but there is always a lag between population growth and the necessary infrastructure and services to support that growth,” Cr Gates says. “It is not sustainable for services and infrastructure to be provided in advance. Council attempts to place the burden of infrastructure delivery upon the development sector to bring forward basic infrastructure like footpaths and park and road improvements, community facilities etc.”
Gates said the 2009 Global Financial Crisis at the time hit the Gold Coast harder than most cities in Australia. With overseas investors forced to withdraw, many planned developments did not proceed, resulting in a major correction in the property market. All the major Australian banks provided alarmingly lower land valuations and many were caught outstripping assets.
The Gold Coast as we know it today is the result of a hardened exterior throughout difficult times. Now back on track, the city is set for global acclaim for hosting the 2018 Games, and major international investors are recognising the benefits of investing on the coast.
But are we ready for it? On paper, yes – but out in the field it’s a different story. Business owners and residents are growing increasingly concerned about the impact redevelopments will have on their quality of living and livelihood.
Bond University Professor of Environmental Studies Tor Hundloe said residents shouldn’t believe politicians when they say redevelopment is in their best interest. “Australia’s population, and that of the Gold Coast, will only grow through migration,” he says. “Like other industrialised countries the natural increase is insignificant. For some reason Australian politicians want more people. They argue that there are economic benefits. Don’t believe them.”
At present there are just as many residents against redevelopment as there are for it. Coomera resident Donna Freeman says she will be leaving the area that has been her home for more than 20 years due to unwanted disruption.
“While I understand that progress is needed, it saddens me when I see what is occurring in the Coomera area,” she says. “I used to live in paradise with large acreage, blocks with large homes and room for kids to run and play. Replacing this is multi-density housing with little infrastructure, which is already causing lots of problems within the community including traffic and crime.”
Her concerns aren’t just personal - they’re also environmental. Conservationist Karina Waterman echoes these fears, and says the growing number of koala deaths in the area is largely down to recent re-development. “Existing conservation measures in the area are already failing our local wildlife,” Ms Waterman says. “Sadly we are seeing increasing numbers of koalas that are malnourished, displaced, diseased, or dead. We frequently see koalas deceased on the side of the road, gasping to drink water out of chlorinated swimming pools, or stranded in the midst of cleared areas of land.
“Whole swathes of land are being cleared at phenomenal speed, resulting in koala habitat rapidly disappearing. Animals are being driven into increasingly smaller, isolated pockets that are simply not large enough to sustain healthy populations. Preserved conservation areas and wildlife corridors are required to ensure that people and wildlife are able to co-inhabit this area successfully.”
Despite these concerns, the Fadden electorate is growing at a rapid pace. In the year to 2015, Pimpama’s population increased by 20 per cent, Coomera grew by 6.7 per cent and Upper Coomera–Willow Vale by 5.1 per cent, with no signs of growth slowing. At present, it seems all that residents can do is sit tight and reap the benefits of what the new developments will offer them - or get out, before the region as they knew it is unrecognisable.