Karratha – regional town centre revitalisation

We are revitalising Karratha's infrastructure and offering modern development opportunities to transform the city into a vibrant, integrated population of 50,000 people. This is happening through partnership with the City of Karratha and the local community.

Project overview

When the WA mining boom was at its peak between 2010 and 2014, Karratha housing prices were spiralling out of reach. Average weekly rents rose to $2200 while the median house price peaked at $955,000. This made it hard for those not engaged in mining to afford to live in the communities. Infrastructure was rundown, land for housing was scarce and there were few developers. At the same time, many owners – living in and out of town – had a financial stake in the appreciation of properties.

Challenges and opportunities

Fly-in-fly-out populations, difficulties in attracting and retaining labour, the high costs to live and operate businesses, affordable housing and housing choice and utilities like water and power operating at capacity created a perfect storm in Karratha.

An historic lack of strategic land use planning and active coordination between stakeholders to address development constraints or opportunities had resulted in basic public amenities, unattractive and poorly connected streets and limited passive surveillance.

Vital community structures such as sporting clubs, cultural groups, health care providers, seniors and youth groups, art and crafts, performing arts groups and other essential social networks were in need of improvements.

The lack of youth spaces, gathering places, shops, cinemas and night spots was a compelling motivator for development.

Improvements to outdoor facilities such as parks, cycle-ways and pathways, interactive community spaces, roads and streetscapes was also identified to add life for locals and become an attraction for visitors.

Participation process

To address the community needs we worked with the Shire of Roebourne to consult with more than 600 local residents, community groups, Aboriginal groups, businesses and industry organisations.

To inform debate, stakeholders were given information about how well-designed cities could be planned. Community sentiment was captured through meetings and interviews, including by working with potentially voiceless groups such as school students. Focus groups developed strategies around key issues, such as how to strengthen community clubs. An open design studio was set up so the community could engage with designers as the plans were drawn. This community-driven process led to a 200-page Implementation Plan to turn Karratha into a city, with DevelopmentWA opening up land parcels, encouraging development and supporting investment.

Outcomes and benefits

Our work in Karratha achieved many of the goals identified by the community: better streetscapes, new infrastructure and the release of land to bring median house prices down to half their peak value. This has greatly eased pressure on renters. At the same time we faced complaints from property owners and developers that normalised prices (coinciding with a sharp decline in mining investment) have left them out of pocket. Some facilities have been criticised given the economic downturn, amid political questions over whether money was spent wisely.

This outcome had the potential to damage our reputation so lessons learned, including the need for greater modelling of economic scenarios, has been incorporated into new projects, such as the Newman Town Centre revitalisation. More effort is being invested in communicating policy goals and what we need to achieve as a return on community investment. In addition, we are working with Pilbara communities to facilitate diversification of the local economy.