With pressure building on housing, roads, beaches, parking, schools and hospitals, it’s becoming clear the Capes region is seeing an unprecedented jump in long-term residents. Bustling tourism numbers during recent months have partly concealed the population boost brought on by what Dunbsorough-based Real Estate Institute of WA vice-president Joe White has called “a flight to safety” during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The (rapid) population growth is actually being constrained by lack of housing stock,” he said. “We don’t know what the real population of Margaret River and Dunsborough are.” Mr White said the work-from-home phenomenon, older Perth residents retiring early, absentee landlords seeking shelter in the South West, stranded travellers, and interstate buyers moving house were all big factors in the unofficial boom. Shire of Augusta-Margaret River sustainable development director Nick Logan said the true population estimate wouldn’t be known until this year’s national Census. The Australian Bureau of Statistics put the shire’s population at 16,172 in 2019. “Coastal communities have historically had high vacancy rates,” Mr Logan said. “However, there is anecdotal evidence that owners are choosing to return to these homes, increasing the resident population.” Shire president Ian Earl agreed there had been at least a 10 per cent jump during the past year. “With natural growth, people moving back to live permanently from interstate and overseas, and the VESPAs (virus escapees seeking provincial Australia), there are a lot more people around,” he said. The region was on track for 300 new homes built this financial year and the local building industry was at capacity, he told the Times. The boom was also reflected in a major uptick in hospital and St John Ambulance presentations, influenced as well by strong summer visitor numbers. A WA Country Health Service spokeswoman said low-acuity presentations in Margaret River had jumped from 489 as measured in January for 2019-20, to 589 at the same time this year. “WACHS continues to meet its WA emergency access target at Margaret River Hospital despite an increase in non-acute presentations,” the spokeswoman said. St John Ambulance refused to provide annual statistics for comparison, but said ambulance callouts in the Capes region during December and January had jumped by whopping 25 per cent compared with last year. “St John WA routinely experiences an increase in ambulance calls each December and January,” a spokeswoman said. The Education Department would not provide school enrolment figures ahead of collating official statistics at the end of March. Fraser Gallop Estate owner and former Margaret River Wine Association president Nigel Gallop said vineyard worker numbers were down at least 30 per cent, and the region would struggle to accommodate more if the workforce was at 100 per cent.