Cheap Land


Story Details

You'd think if ever there was a time to strike a land deal its now. With our top pollies telling us the latest mining boom is almost upon us.

If there are fortunes to be found underground you can be sure the land nearby will also make you rich... and the biggest stakeholders in this modern day land rush, is the taxpayer. You and I. So why aren't we rolling in it?

Well.... it's because not only government departments but local councils have been selling off prime parcels of land, apparently oblivious to soaring land values around them.

Take a huge block of land owned by our Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure at Port Augusta. Well one developer did, and made over two millions dollars in a matter of months, for doing nothing!

Situated between the Eyre and Stuart Highways it's ideally placed to be a service hub for the mining industry. The land, some 58 hectares,was advertised without fanfare in April 2006. It was secured by Carramatta Holdings in July 2006 with a generous 12 month settlement.

In August last year Rowlands coughed up the cash, $550,000 for the 58 hectares, only to on sell it two months later for a staggering $3.2 million.

Independent MP and former Valuer General John Darley says it's a disgrace. He's scratching his head in disbelief that the government failed to see the potential value of this prized piece of real estate.

"It is taxpayers money and the public would have every right to be outraged at this situation," says John.

So how did the government fail to see the potential value of this prized piece of real estate?

According to John Darley, "any valuer that couldn't get within plus or minus 10 per cent of the answer at any one time is not worth his salt."

It's hard to argue with that� with valuers galore at the government's beck and call.

"No one can get it that wrong," says Mr Darley, "that's the whole point� not even an ordinary individual selling their own house could get it that wrong."

The government say that the proper protocol was followed. In fact the minister involved, Pat Conlon, says he is delighted with the sale and no investigation will be launched.

But there are others who also appear to be getting it wrong. Take Whyalla Councils' decision to sell 13 hectares of prime land near the city for $850,000 to company Crown Island Developers. Six months later they sold only 4 hectares of the parcel for $4.6 million dollars.

Council CEO Phil Cameron says that if they had a crystal ball or fortune teller things may have been different.

"If we had a crystal ball here or someone, or a fortune teller here, that would be great but no one really knew the extent of the boom was going to hit," says Mr Cameron. But even the Mayor of Whyalla Jim Pollack, was talking up Whyalla and it's involvement in the coming mining boom back in 2006.

Phil Cameron says negotiations started on the sale of the land in question in 2004 when he says council was struggling to get developers interested. When pressed on the matter however, admitted the council only signed off on the deal last year with an updated price of $850,000, knowing full well land prices in the area had skyrocketed.

Whyalla rate payers advocate, Ted Lavender, is furious over the deal, at a time when rates are going up and council is crying poor.

John Darley says "�we have the Treasurer of the state suggesting that in his budget this year it's going to be fairly tight. On the face of it, it would appear that government agencies are throwing money away."

And Ted Lavender from Whyalla sums it up when he says, "'it just seems there's no accountability for councils or government departments, which is a sad fact."