Why demand for beach houses is ruining coastal towns

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It’s easy to see why beachside towns such as Sorrento, Portsea and Queenscliff have become desirable places for the wealthy to lay foundations for a holiday home. The uninterrupted views, heritage main street structures and breezy lifestyle make these spots the perfect place to escape the pressure of urban life. But as our population swells and demand for housing grows, the desirability of these locations could also be their undoing.

Sorrento: then and now

George Selth Coppin had a vision for Sorrento back in the 1800s according to Deakin University Associate Professor Ursula de Jong. He built his home there in 1873 and the iconic Continental Hotel in 1875. Back then, approximately 50,000 people arrived via steamboat to holiday each summer. It was an enviable location to spend endless sunny days. But Assoc. Prof. de Jong has researched the impact of the rise in sea-changers who’ve built up the landscape in coastal towns and believes that development to accommodate the popularity means that the initial appeal erodes as the urban amenities are installed and the masses descend. Suddenly, queues for beachside parking, the opening of a Country Road store in the heritage post office, and hour-long waits for fish and chips make a place like Sorrento anything but the tranquil retreat that George Selth Coppin inhabited all those years ago.

Striking a balance in Victoria’s coastal towns

Assoc. Prof. de Jong describes development of coastal towns as ‘a vexed issue’. On one hand the population is growing, the State Government is increasing the first homebuyers’ grant in regional Victoria and development is good for our economy,’ she points out. ‘Melbourne has spread to be 165 kilometres across. To grow some of our regional centres and grow them appropriately isn’t a bad philosophy, if it’s appropriate development,’ she points out. But she says the key is to ensure that any development brings with it a long-term benefit for visitors and residents. ‘We need to look after our historic towns, and national and state parks. We need spaces for people to get some respite from the city and their workplaces – places where they can enjoy work-life balance,’ she adds.

'Melbourne has spread to be 165 kilometres across. To grow some of our regional centres and grow them appropriately isn’t a bad philosophy, if it’s appropriate development.'

Associate Professor Ursula de Jong, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment,
Deakin University

Tackling the developers

According to Assoc. Prof. de Jong, Sorrento has an investor population that is destroying the place where people holiday and retire. ‘We need to think strategically about it and ask ourselves if eight-storey developments are appropriate in a coastal village,’ she suggests.

The short-term financial gain for the Mornington Peninsula Shire might not serve the community in decades to come if tourists and buyers seek out quieter spots to spend their leisure time. ‘Once it looks like a city, why would people come anymore?’ Assoc. Prof. de Jong asks, and highlights locations such as Queenscliff, which have retained their historic charm. She urges developers and councils to think about the future enjoyment that people will derive from beachside towns that will one day provide much needed respite from the concrete that’s been built up around them.

Want to make a difference to the future of our built environment? Consider studying architecture and built environment at Deakin University.

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Associate Professor Ursula de Jong
Associate Professor Ursula de Jong

Associate Head of School, Faculty of Science, Engineering and Built Environment, Deakin University
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