The Sunshine Coast is recognised as a high growth region when measured both by population and economic growth. Over the past decade the region has seen its population boom, a strong increase in Gross Regional Product (GRP), higher improving household income, a diversifying economy and a strong investment pipeline leading into the next decade.
During the three-year Covid period from 2020 to 2022, the region experienced higher than average growth in housing prices, largely due to migration from southern states, with the regional housing market continuing to perform well despite the expected national market correction. The flip side of this good news, however, is the resultant pressure on rental cost and availability to accommodate families and workers.
Housing availability and affordability — which were a concern well before Covid-19 — remains a growing problem and demands meaningful actions by state and local government to allow the region to continue a sustainable growth path. According to the Sunshine Coast Market Report by Urbis, it is estimated that this region requires a minimum of 3,500 new houses to be developed each year across all price points to keep pace with population growth alone.
The lack of housing and diversity of accommodation across all price points is causing major disruption within this region and is a real threat to regional growth. It is critical, when competing with other regions and cities to attract new talent, that this region can demonstrate it has the capacity to accommodate a burgeoning permanent and temporary workforce — including those key workers we need to attract to support the growth of the identified high-value industries, and who are in demand and have opportunities nationally.
The Sunshine Coast Business Council (SCBC) believes this is one of the region’s key challenges to sustainable growth. We further believe that unless immediate, decisive actions are taken to address housing and accommodation shortages — particularly the local factors exacerbating the problem — the impact will continue to be a major drag on growth as we will not have access to the workforce essential to support the diversifying and expanding economy.
As in all regions, Sunshine Coast businesses face a tough road ahead in 2023, particularly in terms of global eco-political issues, raising inflation and interest rates. Whilst these are headwinds we cannot address locally, we can, and need to, address the local impacts on growth.
SCBC has been working with other industry groups to understand the issues impacting housing availability, affordability and liveability and presented submissions to Sunshine Coast councillors and executives on our recommendations. We have looked beyond the statistics to understand the interrelated issues and in late 2022, SCBC undertook its third investor market survey in the past decade to ascertain current investor sentiment (regional, national and international) and whether it had changed toward the Sunshine Coast as an investment location. Some of the key findings were expected:
- The Sunshine Coast is seen positively as a place to invest when considered against investment criteria including strong population growth, demographic and market profiles, strength of demand and the ability to achieve target rates of return.
- There are constraints to investment if not addressed such as lack of ease of business in terms of planning matters; how planning schemes are implemented, timeliness and delays in decision making, influence of minority community voices and the lack of access to councillors.
- That access to labour poses a serious risk to investment for regional projects both during development and for ongoing operations, particularly impacting aged care facilities and hotels and resorts.
- Standout projects identified by investors for their impact on growing and diversifying the region are Maroochydore City Centre, Sunshine Coast Airport and Aura.
- That clear investment policy and planning schemes are key areas to get right to facilitate investment, in areas such as residential and industrial land supply, growth areas and density, and protection areas.
- Promoting the region’s vision, strengths and growth policies are important to attract national and international investors.
The Sunshine Coast region has a strong private and public sector investment pipeline and investor interest, to keep this growing population employed into the future. The big question for the wider community to grapple with is, do we want to live in a region equipped with affordable housing and accommodation, social, health, education and other sustainable infrastructure required to support a growing population and a diversifying economy.
Or do we want to somehow stop or slow population growth, understanding this will limit employment opportunities, limit investment in housing and all other classes of infrastructure including hospitals, schools and the social infrastructure to keep our community engaged, and would result in an unaffordable housing market for those who drive our ambulances, teach our future generations and work in our cafes and restaurants. Both options have consequences that need to be understood within the wider community and that is the responsibility of our regional political leaders.
Just as there are opportunities there are challenges. The next few years will be financially and emotionally tough for many of our hardworking people and businesses. Rising inflation and interest rates will continue to put pressure on both the ability to pay existing loans as well as future borrowing capacity, which we are told has already decreased by around 25 per cent for many.
This is the time, again, for pragmatic, decisive regional leadership that ensures we have the most effective policy levers, including competitive incentives in place, to attract new investors and encourage those already here to continue to deliver the vital infrastructure required to create the jobs and keep our economy prosperous well to the future.
We know with a great deal of certainty, that investors place their funds in regions where growth is planned for and not limited. We must remain that region.
About the Sunshine Coast Business Council
The Sunshine Coast Business Council is the leading regional business advocacy group on the Sunshine Coast representing approximately 4,000 businesses through its membership, which includes key national and regional industry groups and their members as well as national and regional businesses. Its membership base represents a range of sectors including tourism, property, construction, retail, education and training, agribusiness, manufacturing, ICT and professional services. To find out more, please visit www.scbusinesscouncil.com.au.