Local business owners frustrated

FUNDING: Proposed site for the new development on the Stuart Highway, adjacent the Port Augusta Golf Course.
FUNDING: Proposed site for the new development on the Stuart Highway, adjacent the Port Augusta Golf Course.

Local accommodation providers have been left with feelings of frustration and disappointment following a recent grant announcement by the state government.

A new 4-star cabin park development on the Stuart Highway will receive $1 million from the Regional Development Fund to help facilitate a $10 million project.  

Labelled a “jobs and tourism boost”, the grant will enable the Port Pirie-based company to expand into Port Augusta with 100 fully self-contained cabins, a cafeteria, shop, laundry, barbecue facilities, playground and waterpark to be constructed at a site adjoining the Port Augusta Golf Course.

Aaron Morgan, owner of Comfort Inn & Suites Augusta Westside, has struggled through the last five years and after investing so much into the family owned property he was shocked to see a new operator “get a million bucks to help move in”.

“It’s a real hard situation because nobody has done anything wrong, that’s something I want to make real clear. It’s the rules that are a bit of a problem,” Mr Morgan explained.

“For me it was a frustration that the last two properties have been built with funding contributions and we have never been able to access anything like it.”

Mr Morgan recently inquired about funding for more accommodation and was told by the Regional Development Board that he was ineligible. 

Minister for Regional Development Geoff Brock said “the merits of grants applications are assessed by a cross-government panel that includes employment and sector-relevant representatives, such as SA Tourism Commission and Department of State Development.”

“The strong response to the RDF means that not every business who applies to the fund is successful. Unsuccessful businesses can seek feedback and advice from the grants team – and those eligible are encouraged to reapply.”

Mr Morgan questioned the Ministers previous statement that the new cabin park would see a 10 per cent increase in visitor numbers and he is not alone in his concerns.

Shoreline Caravan Park Owner Selina Hodge expressed doubts over the town’s need for more accommodation providers.

“It’s not a tourism draw-card. The average person in Adelaide is not going to think ‘Let’s go to Port Augusta for the weekend because they’ve got a waterpark in their new cabin park’,” she said.

“We were never consulted. Nobody approached us from the development board, or from council, or any where to see how we were going or to see our occupancy rate.

“It’s seasonal. Now it’s pretty dead and it’s only two or three days a year that the whole town is booked out.”

The family have owned the Shoreline Caravan Park for 13 years and Mrs Hodge said even a 10 per cent change in turnover will have significant impact on their livelihood. 

“Adding an extra hundred is only going to spread everything thinner between all of us. What they gain in employing people there, we are going to have to cut back hours with our staff,” she explained.

“So it’s not really going to create all of these jobs or anything because at the end of the day it is basically just spreading it across another thing.”

Minister Brock defended the $1 million development grant saying that the RDF creates new regional jobs and also helps keep existing jobs in the regions.

While many businesses owners have had a tough time accessing any funding, Minister Brock said there is always help on hand. 

“An independent analysis of the RDF showed that projects funded in 2015-16 alone will create more than 2000 jobs and support more than $900 million worth of economic activity in regional SA,” he said. 

“Local Regional Development Australia and Regions SA personnel are always out talking to businesses, spreading the word on the RDF and making themselves available to help locals with their applications.