Townsville flood crisis raises fears about economic recovery among business leaders



February 08, 2019 06:43:15

Experts are worried Townsville’s long-awaited economic resurgence has been washed out to sea by the city’s historic flood disaster.

  • Key points:

  • Townsville’s Chamber of Commerce is worried confidence will be washed away
  • Tourists urged not to cancel Easter holiday bookings
  • Concern over pressure on Townsville’s rental housing market

They fear the north Queensland city will lose not only tourists, but broader economic momentum as the clean-up slows down activity in the weeks and months ahead.

After a mining downturn, Townsville has struggled for years with high unemployment.

Townsville Chamber of Commerce chief executive Marie-Claude Brown was concerned industries like retail and hospitality will now take a hit.

“In the longer term, we’re concerned that the money will shrink and the confidence we were starting to see could have been washed away with the flood,” Ms Brown said.

“Certain things are going to be in high demand — carpenters, plumbers, plasters, painters — so that will have an immediate impact,” Ms Brown said.

“But while the recovery is underway in Townsville, there’s not a lot of discretionary dollars going around.”

The State Government and Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill have asked insurance companies to use local businesses as much as possible during any rebuilds.

“The locals want to be a part of it, the locals want to do it. This is about building community capacity,” Cr Hill said.

The economic toll from the flood is not known, however insurers have so far received claims of just over $100 million.

That figure will rise as people return to their flood-damaged homes or business.

Economic lobby group Townsville Enterprise chief executive Patricia O’Callaghan has encouraged tourists not to cancel their Easter booking in the region, particularly those heading to Magnetic Island.

“Support our community, particularly our small businesses through this tough economic time,” she said.

“We are open for business. It’s important to reinforce the value not only of the immediate recovery but not losing momentum on the long-term plan and key priorities for the region.

“On top of repair and recovery, building the pipeline of jobs has now become more important than ever.”

Looming housing crisis

There are also predictions there could be short-term pressure on the rental market as more residents become displaced.

At least 250 houses have been deemed uninhabitable so far, with that number expected to rise.

A State Housing Department spokesperson said they are processing more than 133 requests for emergency housing assistance and supporting people on an individual basis with accommodation options to meet their differing circumstances and needs.

“Since the flooding began, 67 people in need have been housed in short-term accommodation in Townsville such as hotels, motels and caravan parks,” the spokesperson said.

“The remainder are currently staying with friends, family or in evacuation centres and the department is working to find suitable accommodation for them.”

Real Estate Institute of Queensland’s chair for Townsville Wayne Nicholson said before the floods, Townsville’s rental market had vacancy rates of between three and four per cent, and some offices had even lower.

“Those vacancies will be picked up very quickly,” he said.

“I think the council and even the State Government will be dealing with a short-term crisis when it comes to accommodating people.”

The Government is assessing demand and has transferred families into emergency accommodation at hotels.

Eligibility requirements will be relaxed so flood victims can access help like bond loans and rental grants as they seek alternate accommodation.

Mr Nicholson said it was too soon to tell whether the value of flood-stricken houses would decrease.

“We had the Night of Noah back in ’98, we’ve had Cyclone Althea in 1971, and I can remember vividly the houses were decimated,” he said.

“People said, ‘who would ever live here again’. Well, people are living there again and the prices out there are fairly significant.”










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