Mount Larcom residents: Judy Major and Colin Tummon. Many residents in Mount Larcom would like to see their town develop, not into a big town like Gladstone, but perhaps to a town of 500-1000 homes.
Mount Larcom residents: Judy Major and Colin Tummon. Many residents in Mount Larcom would like to see their town develop, not into a big town like Gladstone, but perhaps to a town of 500-1000 homes. David Sparkes

Revision of water supply welcomed by Mount Larcom residents

COLIN Tummon is what you might call a local. He has lived in Mount Larcom for 82 years - his entire life.

You might think after eight decades in the same town, he would be afraid of change, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr Tummon has a vision of what Mount Larcom could become. When he casts an eye on the future, he likes what he sees.

"We don't need a really big town, but if we grew a bit bigger (up to 1000 homes) the people that live here could have more facilities," he said. "We could have a chemist shop, maybe a delicatessen, maybe an arcade."

Mr Tummon is not the only person thinking along those lines. The Observer has spoken to several residents at Mount Larcom who say they want to see the town grow into a bigger, more vibrant town, albeit with a rural character.

Mount Larcom has about 128 homes. Gladstone Regional Council is currently revising a strategy to plan for a water supply that would cater for up to 1000 homes.

There is no suggestion that 1000 homes are going to appear overnight, but the council has arrived at a crossroads, as the current water supply has already reached its capacity.

Over the past decade, development of the town has been held back by red tape and regulations involving the nearby Gladstone State Development Area. That problem appears to have been overcome in the past year and all that remains is the need for better infrastructure and, of course, a willingness of new people to live there.

The Mount Larcom Progress Association (MLPA), of which Mr Tummon is president, has welcomed the council's efforts to plan for more developed Mount Larcom.

MLPA member John Moynihan said they do not want the town's population to be expanded before demand is afoot. They simply want the scene to be set.

"What we are looking at, is for Mount Larcom to develop naturally without any barriers," he said.

The vision of an expanded Mount Larcom is not new. It has been held by various community leaders for many years.

Now the game finally appears to be changing.


Potential demand

The logic behind a 1000-home community at Mount Larcom is now stronger than ever. It revolves around the ever-growing employment opportunities in the Gladstone State Development Area (GSDA). Mr Moynihan believes Mount Larcom could be the ideal home for workers in those areas.

"It makes a lot of sense to have housing developed on this side of the state development area," he said.

Councillor Ren Lanzon has been a passionate advocate of expanding Mount Larcom, having wrote on the topic in his former career as a journalist at The Observer.

"I think Mount Larcom is in that area where Gladstone should be expanding towards, because it is right next to the GSDA," Cr Lanzon said. "so, it is in position to provide labour and also services, which would take some of the pressure off Gladstone to provide those services.

"At the moment, we have got people travelling from Boyne Island, right through Gladstone to get to those industrial areas. Mount Larcom would be able to provide and alternative place for residents."

Cr Lanzon recognises the cost to Gladstone Regional would be high if it decided to pay up front for new water infrastructure. (The current estimate is $7 million.)

"It is a lot of money and it is a consideration, even though I have been supporting that development of Mount Larcom."

"But in the end, I think it will be a wise economical move, because I think that we should be expanding that way.

"Also, it gives a message to people in this vast region of ours that council is interested in regional areas, just as much as it is interested in the urban areas."


The problem

There no longer seems to be a debate over whether Mount Larcom is a good area for development.

The big question now is, how to make it happen and more to the point, how to pay for it.

The first big issue is water supply.

At the council's general meeting two weeks ago, councillors had a long, "robust" discussion about developing the town's water supply.

The council estimates about $7 million worth of investment would be needed in mains-water infrastructure if the town is to grow to 1000 homes.

The decision will probably be whether the council pays upfront for the entire infrastructure upgrade and then charges developers to recoup that investment; or making developers pay upfront for that new infrastructure, based on the number of homes they build.

The council's engineering services spokesperson Cr Rick Hansen said the first step was to complete the Strategic Plan to determine exactly what needs to be done. Only after that plan is completed, identifying exactly what is needed, will the council finalise funding options.

"The Strategic Plan enables Council to ensure projected water supply is sufficient to sustain anticipated growth, and if necessary, incorporate additional water supply upgrades into future planning," Cr Hansen said.

He said the plan included consideration of the financial impacts of upgrading Mount Larcom's water infrastructure.

"The Strategic Plan allows Council and the development industry to understand water infrastructure requirements for development to occur in Mount Larcom, while enabling Council to ensure Standards of Service are maintained for residents," he said

Eventually, the topic will boil down to money. Cr Lanzon believes the council should invest the $7 million upfront, then charge developers to recoup that investment. The benefit of that method would be getting the right water infrastructure in the ground immediately, rather than building it piece by piece.

However, most other councillors were not impressed by the prospect of forking out $7 million up front, without any guarantee enough new homes will be built to recoup their investment.

At the end of that meeting, the council voted to keep all funding options open until it has a better idea of the needs.

Cr Hansen told The Observer, until the Strategic Plan was finalised, determining the specific goals for Mount Larcom's water supply, it was too early to make decisions about the funding.


The economics

CQ University economist Professor John Rolfe said it made a lot of sense to develop Mount Larcom, given the nearby Gladstone State Development Area.

However, he said the council faced a major decision on funding of new infrastructure. He acknowledged $7 million does not grow on trees for regional councils.

"It's a tough call," he said.

Prof Rolfe said the issue needed to be looked at from all angles. For example, if Gladstone's population is not to expand in Mount Larcom, where will it expand?

 "I think for the council, it should come down to an issue of what are all the different consequences of having more people living down at, for example, Tannum Sands and Boyne Island and getting them across Gladstone (and into the GSDA).

"Will that lead to more expenses on (upgrading) roads, versus the cost of developing water in Mount Larcom?"

"When you put it like that, the upfront cost of (installing new infrastructure for) water in Mount Larcom may not be quite so bad, compared to the other alternatives."