Land gamble is a winner

DEVELOPER Keith Johnson’s $1billion gamble on a massive housing project near Cooranbong promises big dividends for the Hunter.

With the building industry languishing across Australia, a big release of affordable residential lots could put some much-needed wind back in the sector’s deflated sails.

There appear to be good reasons to expect the project to succeed.

The lots are well-priced, at under $169,000. They are in a growth area, close to the F3 freeway and capable of appealing to families priced out of the Sydney real estate market but still plugged into the metropolitan jobs market.

If local builders can put together attractive house deals on the lots, they should be able to win enough business to keep things ticking over until the next economic upturn.

As the developer has pointed out, every new house start means about nine jobs in the building and related trades, as well as in the building supplies chain.

Even Mr Johnson’s critics may feel obliged to take their hats off to his perseverance.

It wasn’t so long ago that he was reportedly close to the brink of bankruptcy, having been allegedly fleeced by an international swindler.

That experience highlighted the problems faced by the development industry in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, with banks reluctant to commit funds to real estate projects.

Lake Macquarie City Council is understandably pleased that the ‘‘Watagan Park’’ subdivision is proceeding.

About a third of the 360-hectare site is to be conserved, with $9million to be spent on regeneration and a $1million endowment established to maintain the bushland in future.

Johnson Property Group will also contribute $130million towards community infrastructure, including a cycleway, walking trail, barbecue area, sporting fields and parks.

Mr Johnson’s ambition, he says, is to ‘‘kick-start’’ the Hunter’s building industry. Many people will be hoping he can do just that.

Viva la Dungog

SINCE it began in 2007, the Dungog Film Festival has managed to establish itself as a must-see fixture on the Australian film-lovers’ calendar.

With its stated aim of showcasing Australian film in a non-competitive environment, the festival excites industry participants and the movie-going public alike.

This year’s program of features, documentaries and short films is as expansive and varied as usual. Tonight’s opening night party and tomorrow night’s street parade promise to add some glitter to the scene and draw film fans keen to rub shoulders with movie insiders.

Tourism promoters know how hard it is to attain critical mass for major events like the film festival. That’s why it is important for the Hunter community – and not just Dungog itself – to put some energy into maintaining and improving an already successful template.

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