The Square Kilometre Array will bring international attention – and property investment – to Geraldton, WA: Terry Ryder
One of the most important economic announcements of the year has passed without fanfare and almost without comment. The venture will create the most powerful telescope ever made (it will have 2,000 dishes, each 12 metres wide).
The Square Kilometre Array is a $2.5 billion project that will make Australia the focus of major international attention for reasons other than the mining sector.
It’s an international project involving 20 nations, and a site just outside Geraldton in Western Australia will provide the core of the development. This makes Geraldton a city of international importance and adds to its appeal as a place worthy of consideration by property investors.
It’s been in the making for several years, with Australia initially making a short list of two to secure the project. It has a discovery potential 10,000 times greater than the best present-day telescopic instruments. It will allow us to see further into the universe than ever before
The federal government gave $80 million in the 2009 budget towards winning the project for Australia. The funds established an Australian National Centre for SKA Science to help the nation’s bid for this project, including a mini-SKA, the $110 million Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) to road test Australia’s candidate site for the SKA.
In November 2011 the Western Australian government announced a $15 million plan to provide power for the SKA project, via a hybrid diesel/solar power plant. Funding for the project came from the Royalties for Regions Mid-West Investment Plan.
In other words, there was a considerable economic boost to Geraldton just in the attempt to win the project.
In May 2012 it was decided that Geraldton and its South African opponent would share the venture.
The decision means a square kilometre of dishes with multi-pixel radio cameras will be established at Boolardy Station, north-east of Geraldton.
Phase one of the project will start in 2016 and run until about 2020, with the remainder to be built in phase two. Its cost is currently estimated at $2.5 billion to build and $25 billion to maintain over the next 50 years, paid for by a consortium of 20 countries.
This makes Geraldton a city of international importance and adds to its appeal as a place worthy of consideration by property investors.
The other big venture impacting on Geraldton’s future is the $6 billion Oakajee port and rail project. This has been designed to service the iron ore mines of WA’s mid-west region, which doesn’t get the attention directed to the Pilbara but is nevertheless a key component of WA’s resources success story.
The Oakajee project has stalled because one of the key proponents, Murchison Metals, was essentially out of its depth and couldn’t fund it. Its partner, the Japanese giant Mitsubishi, has bought out Murchison and hopefully will advance the project, either alone or with new financial partners.
It the meantime, some of the other miners active in the mid-west have come up with “a rescue plan” to ensure this much-needed piece of infrastructure goes ahead, one way or the other.
Geraldton appeals to me because, unlike regional centres further north like Karratha and Port Hedland, it’s not reliant on mining as the only trick in its repertoire.
If iron ore mining shut down tomorrow, Geraldton would still chug along happily as a regional centre servicing a diverse economy with strong elements of agriculture, fishing and tourism. The SKA provides an additional major element.
The other key difference with Geraldton is that its real estate is affordable. You pay $800,000-ish for the typical Karratha house and over $1 million for the average dwelling in Port Hedland (and it is very average).
The mainstream house in Geraldton costs somewhere in the $300,000s, with a number of suburbs having median house prices in the $200,000s. The city has plentiful land supply, which means it doesn’t have the shortages that have bloated prices and rents in Karratha and Port Hedland.Terry Ryder is the founder of hotspotting.com.au and can be followed on Twitter.
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