South West crackdown on Airbnb holiday homes

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
VideoMargaret River’s registered accommodation providers have banded together to fight the Airbnb invasion.

Councillors have directed under-the-pump Shire of Augusta-Margaret River planning staff to crack down on unregistered holiday home operators in the region.

Initially, $25,000 was set aside to recruit a part-time compliance officer to curb the rampant growth of unregistered providers on platforms such as Airbnb, but at Wednesday night’s council meeting, $10,000 was pulled to fund further research.

Strong interest in the Airbnb debate attracted a packed public gallery as councillors added amendments to their wish list for planning reforms.

A lengthy, polite, but complex debate, which drew in Shire sustainable development director Dale Putland, overshadowed new changes to the short-stay accommodation policy.

The sequestered $10,000 would instead go to hiring a consultant to look at overarching planning mechanisms such as a scheme amendment to wind back holiday homes, including within the priority agriculture and residential zones.

“This disruption is something we can have greater control over through tightening our planning controls,” Shire president Pam Townshend said.

VideoMargaret River’s registered accommodation providers have banded together to fight the Airbnb invasion.

Several councillors voiced worries about undermining the Shire’s compliance fightback — the main feedback during the public advertising period from registered operators who want illegal rivals prosecuted — and Dr Putland said the council request was a challenge that might take longer than councillors wanted.

The debate hit a hurdle as Cr Naomi Godden added a workshop to the council resolution so elected members could give direct instructions to the consultant. “What I’d like is more than a half-hour briefing,” she said, “which is what we usually get on these things.

“This isn’t stepping into that operational space, but making sure the will and intent of the council is represented.”

We haven’t even really got a handle on where the holiday homes are in the shire.

Deputy Shire president Julia Meldrum added: “I have felt in the past some of the processes have probably not been robust enough for our council.”

Dr Putland said the planners were overworked, with staff on stress leave, and a consultant with no vested interests in the holiday industry was needed.

“We haven’t even really got a handle on where the holiday homes are in the shire because we just don’t have the staff,” he said.

“We have some issues at the moment with staff and stress.”

Furthermore, planners were working on a review of the Shire’s major local planning scheme, and the added work would cost more money and create delays.

Dr Putland noted a “complex amendment” was required to combat Airbnb and “economic protection” was not a criteria considered by overseers at the WA Planning Commission.

The $10,000 would be exhausted “pretty quickly,” he said.

“The staff are already considerably overloaded,” Cr Earl said.

As part of the resolution, the Shire would also write to Airbnb looking for ways to list whether advertised holiday homes had adequate approvals. Added to the motion was a request to develop a logo registered operators could display, which Cr Pauline McLeod said would add value to operators.

Cr McLeod also ordered commission of a research paper, working with students and academics from an as-yet-unidentified university to examine cultural, social, and economic consequences of Airbnb.

Cr Godden later added “environmental impacts” to that list.

The meeting also heard from Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney, and Robert MacDonald, spokesman for the newly formed Registered Accommodation Providers Margaret River Region who said Airbnb and related platforms’ influence was disrupting communities worldwide, squeezing residents out of affordable homes, and changing the character of tourism hotspots.

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