Group calls for clearer Airbnb rules

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

A newly formed residents group says the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River must introduce clearer guidelines on holiday homes and enforce them, or risk further erosion of the region’s sense of community.

The alarm comes with Shire consultation on its revised policy closing next week, while registered hospitality operators call on the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association to weigh in on the vexed issue.

Former Shire president Jamie McCall and Karri Loop resident Ed Green are among a growing membership of the Residents’ Interests Protection Association spurred into action by the growth of Airbnb and unregistered holiday homes across the region.

The group cites unfair competition to operators, bushfire risks, lack of enforcement, and loss of amenity as key concerns, but central to its complaints is the undermining of neighbourhoods caused by an uptick in holiday homes outside of existing policy maps.

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“Our expectation is you make the policy clear and concise so people know what they can do,” Mr McCall said.

“When it becomes a holiday home, there’s no community and there’s no supervision.”

Mr Green said there was too much “confusion” in the approvals process and not enough enforcement. “What we’d like is a scheme that is well thought out, clearly and succinctly explained, and delineated on a map,” he told the Times.

RIPA said there was disparity with a map showing approved holiday homes across the region, while a local family recently fronted the council asking why permission for their bed and breakfast was rebuffed for falling 200m outside Margaret River’s town centre.

Mr McCall said a change to the scheme in 2016 now allowed holiday homes as a discretionary use in the rural zone, fuelling the spread of unregistered operators he said were unlikely to respond to complaints.

Shire planners have previously said the existing policy withstood State Administrative Tribunal challenges, reinforcing its utility, but RIPA said too many unlawful operators were going unpunished.

Shire sustainable development director Dale Putland said planners were upfront with RIPA and other groups about a legal requirement to allow discretionary approvals in its policy framework.

“They must have a degree of flexibility to allow all proposals to be assessed on their individual merits,” Dr Putland said.

“With the assistance of the community, the Shire hope(s) to arrive at a final policy position which provides a balance between maintaining the amenity of homes and providing a wide range of tourism accommodation for visitors.”

The Shire called on unregistered operators to “show respect” for neighbours and obtain proper approvals.

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