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Locals are divided on resort and spa project

Augusta Margaret River Times
Residents march through Margaret River in 2002 protesting the Gnarabup Beach Estate.
Camera IconResidents march through Margaret River in 2002 protesting the Gnarabup Beach Estate. Credit: John Evans/WA News, John Evans

The Westin Margaret River Resort and Spa proposal is likely to split the community, with tourism and industry groups welcoming the vote of confidence and benefit to the local economy.

But members of the Margaret River Regional Environment Centre have voiced their opposition to the project which hearkens back to the contentious Gnarabup Beach Estate Supreme Court stoush from early last decade.

Meanwhile, the tourism sector – including rival hospitality operators – told the Times the proposed five-star resort would be a boon to the region, and add to Margaret River’s international appeal.

Lee Burkett, who manages neighbouring Margarets Beach Resort, said a five-star offering would complement his business but residents deserved a say too.

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Landsmith Collection chief executive Chris Furtado — whose brief includes the proposed Wallcliffe House boutique hotel development — said Margaret River had a well-known lack of high-end accommodation.

“We’ve known about the potential for development on this site for some time and it hasn’t influenced our plans,” he said.

“Marriott is the world’s largest hotel company, and Wallcliffe House is a private development by a local WA family. Our guest experience will be very different.

“Increased investment in support infrastructure should have flow-on benefits to tourism more broadly in the region.”

Shire of Augusta-Margaret River president Ian Earl said the proposal had been on the cards for many years and was included in the Shire’s tourism strategy.

Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Steve Harrison also gave the resort a big tick.

“The news is particularly welcome given the impacts COVID-19 is having on the region, with the project set to create employment throughout construction and operation,” he said.

Future direct flights from Melbourne, the proposed redevelopment of Wallcliffe House and the Bayview Geographe Resort, and a Hilton Garden Inn for the Busselton Foreshore all showed “great confidence in the future of tourism in the region”, he said.

Residents on social media were less kind, citing crowding at Gnarabup, the loss of amenity, car parking issues, and potential damage to the coastal scarp. The news also stirred memories for those involved in fighting a controversial Gnarabup proposal back in 2002.

MRREC spokeswoman Peta Goodwin said the resort showed outmoded thinking which ignored the damage from international tourism and would harm the coast’s natural appeal.

“This proposal is not ‘demonstrating a strong future’ or offering a ‘strong vote of confidence’ for WA tourism – it is just offering more habitat creep … and more consumer opportunities we don’t need,” she said.

The big ‘plusses’ of jobs for the region boil down to 300 short-lived construction jobs and 100 post-construction jobs in hospitality – not long-term career prospects or sustainable/regenerative work that will keep our children here.”

Former Shire president Pam Townsend told the Times the site was significant for many residents, including the Wadandi.

“What we all love about our coast is the wild and untamed nature of our beaches and cliffs,” she said.

“Do we inevitably have to make every popular beach spot look like a cross between the Gold Coast and Mandurah?”

White Elephant co-owner Anthony Janssen said the development would be a benefit, provided it was “sympathetic on the environment and works with the local trades”.

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