15 February 2024

Cape York businesses plead for prosperity through PDR seal

| Lyndon Keane
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Coen Mechanical owner Sara Watkins says the business is experiencing delays in getting vehicles back to customers because trucks are unable to deliver parts due to the condition of the Peninsula Developmental Road. Photo: Facebook.

Frustrated Cape York business owners say workshops filled with partially-repaired vehicles and the disappointed looks of customers, not the condition of the road itself, are the strongest arguments for why governments need to put politics aside and finally seal the Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR) to Weipa.

Regional Development Australia Tropical North again highlighted the importance of sealing the road infrastructure linking Laura with Weipa when it launched its Tropical North Queensland Economic Development Strategy 2024-2029 on 2 February, with securing funding for stages three and four of the Cape York Regional Package (CYRP) identified as a priority.

The first stage of the CYRP, which is a jointly-funded program between the State and Federal Governments, delivered $276 million in upgrades to progressively seal priority sections of the PDR, while stage two – which includes the ongoing construction of the Archer River bridge – will add another $237.5m worth of improvements to the mammoth task of sealing the road to Weipa.

But it is the remaining unsealed sections of the road – about 250 kilometres in total – which business owners have criticised as being the most detrimental to their livelihoods.

Coen Mechanical owner Sara Watkins told Cape York Weekly businesses along the PDR in locations without barge freight capability would continue to struggle each wet season until the state of the road was addressed as a serious concern by the decision makers in Brisbane and Canberra.

“Being landlocked, you can’t just throw things on the barge,” she explained.

“We haven’t seen a truck up here since before Christmas and, for a small business like ours, it’s vital, because we are waiting for parts to fix customers’ vehicles.

“We still get Australia Post, but that doesn’t work for the big parts we need to get the vehicles back on the road.”

Ms Watkins has lived and worked in Coen for seven months and said it had been easy to see what impact the PDR’s condition had not only from an economic perspective, but on the lifestyles of remote Cape York residents.

“Sealing the road makes everything easier, even just to live here,” she said.

“Absolutely do seal it; just get it done.”

A Weipa business owner, who asked not to be named, said they could not see the township prospering unless the long-awaited sealing plan came to fruition.

“If we are going to imagine a Weipa without mining 10 or 20 years down the track, how the hell do we make it happen without accessibility?” they asked.

“People need a reason to want to stay, or come up here and invest in a business and make Weipa their home, but that’s pretty well going to be impossible if they feel like they’re driving up a bush track, or can’t run a business because of transport issues.”

READ ALSO State and federal politicians clash over PDR works

Outgoing Cook Shire Council Mayor Peter Scott, whose local government area is home to most of the PDR’s snaking path, said he was confident sealing the road was “far from a pipe dream”.

“I am confident that the program will be continued, with flood-resilient access from Cairns to Weipa an achievable goal in the next 10 years,” he said.

In pointing out the criticality of the PDR to life on Cape York, Mayor Cook said it was imperative that all three tiers of government maintained focus on continuing the CYRP project.

“While there have been hurdles and shifts in government priorities over the years, it’s crucial to continue advocating and working diligently with all levels of government to secure funding for sealing the PDR,” he explained.

“The economic and social benefits are undeniable for Cook Shire and all the communities of Cape York.

“The PDR is vital for our region, connecting remote communities and supporting industries like mining and agriculture [and] sealing it improves accessibility and safety, stimulating economic growth for Cook Shire and the entire Cape York region.”

READ ALSO Poor condition of PDR draws criticism from cop

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