Article – After the mining boom: Blueprint to triple the Pilbara’s population by 2050

by 7 May 2015

12 April 2015
Peter Law
Perth Now

THE population of WA’s Pilbara region could triple to 200,000 by 2050 under a blueprint for its future beyond the mining boom.

Renewable energy, agriculture and eco-tourism are among emerging industries identified as crucial to ending the region’s dependence on resources.

The Pilbara Development Commission’s Regional Investment Blueprint builds on the State Government’s plan to transform Karratha and Port Hedland into cities of 50,000 people each by 2035.

Karratha could be transformed into a city with 50,000 people by 2035.PHOTO: Karratha could be transformed into a city with 50,000 people by 2035.

University and TAFE campuses, 60,000 homes, more hospital beds and a mix of museums, art galleries and sports complexes are envisaged in the PDC blueprint, which will be released tomorrow.

PDC acting chief executive Terry Hill said the falling iron ore price — which this month dropped to a 10-year low of $US47 — highlighted the importance of diversifying the region’s economy.

A major Japanese industrial company has already identified the potential for the Pilbara to fuel Japan’s emerging “hydrogen economy”.

The firm, which has not been named for confidentiality reasons, has partnered with the PDC and Sydney-based RenewableHydrogen to fund a feasibility study into the potential for a pilot plant.

If successful, a 10-megawatt solar farm and adjacent electrolysis plant would be built near Karratha, with the resulting hydrogen converted into ammonia and exported to Japan.

Renewable Hydrogen’s Andrew Want said the Pilbara’s sunshine, vast land and coastline meant it was well-placed to capitalise on Asia’s move towards hydrogen fuel systems.

Agriculture and aquaculture are also identified as future opportunities.

High production cost, land tenure issues and competition from other parts of WA mean the Pilbara should focus on “niche and high value” crops.

The plan envisages doubling the value of agriculture production by 2020. By 2050, the goal is for the Pilbara and Australia’s northwest to “contribute significantly to regional and global food security”.

Mr Hill said resources would remain “critical” to the economy, but the end of the mining construction phase gave the Pilbara “some breathing room” to develop new industries.

Despite recent falling property prices and the slowing of work for local businesses, he was confident the population target was achievable.

Courtesy of Perth Now

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