The South Australian government has big plans for Whyalla — its $593 million hydrogen plant planned for the town is the centrepiece of its so-called “state prosperity project”.

At a forum selling the dream to the local community, there was excitement, but also concern, about the pressure that growth in the region would have on already-stretched services.

One woman questioned Premier Peter Malinauskas about what he was going to do for the regional city’s housing stock and supply.

“I’m new to Whyalla,” she said.

“I’ve been back a year now, and accommodation is a massive issue.

“I was nearly homeless and it’s terrifying.”

A woman in Whyalla asks a question about the state prosperity project. (ABC News)

Mr Malinauskas conceded there would be “growing pains” in the region, particularly given there was a housing supply crunch everywhere.

“What we’re seeking to do as a state government is release a lot more land, abolish taxes for new builds, do a whole lot of planning subdivisions, investing in skills to actually build houses,” he told the hundreds gathered at the forum.

“The problem is everything has a lag time. You can’t just click your fingers and build a home.

“This is going to bring growing pains and I don’t want to mislead anybody — growing pains extend to beyond just housing. There’s health, there’s schools.”

The site of the proposed hydrogen plant.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

Will a rising tide lift all boats?

Centacare Catholic Country SA chief executive Jen Cleary said while she welcomed growth in the Upper Spencer Gulf region, she was concerned about the people who could be left behind.

“There is the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats,” Dr Cleary said.

“I guess my concern is that not everybody has a boat.

Centacare Catholic Country SA chief executive Jen Cleary is especially concerned for low-income earners.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

“We’re already seeing rent stress and we’re already seeing people losing their homes.”

Dr Cleary said her greatest concern was for people on welfare and low incomes.

“My concern for them is when people are already paying high rents,” she said.

“When that becomes more than 30 per cent of their income, that generally forces those on lower incomes out.”

At the time of the 2022 census, Whyalla had a population of just under 22,000 — a lot less than its shipbuilding heyday in the 70s when 35,000 people lived there.

But Michael O’Neil from the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Economic Studies said the city was initially designed for 50,000 people, with wide four-lane boulevards and plenty of space.

He said despite that, there was work to be done to modernise the city and pave the way for a growing population.

“One critical issue for Whyalla is the demand for housing and that’s going to be an impediment unless that’s addressed in future,” Dr O’Neil said.

“Housing for the construction of the hydrogen plant, housing as the steelworks expand, housing for people who are working at the hydrogen plant and other industries that come up there as well.”

Whyalla’s population is estimated to be around 22,000, and that’s expected to grow.(ABC News: Isabel Dayman)

City calls for developers

The state government has announced funds to build 83 new cabins in Whyalla, which will act as accommodation for the workforce building the hydrogen plant, which could later be used as tourist accommodation.

An artist’s impression of the $600 million hydrogen plant.(Supplied: SA Government)

Mayor Phill Stone said more capacity was needed, including more Crown land releases.

“We do need more general housing, not just workers accommodation,” he said.

“We’re working with the state there to get those parcels released, go out to the open market, look at the developers we could attract.”

The council has released a “Potential Development Sites Prospectus” outlining sites that could be developed, and calling for companies to invest.

Phill Stone says business costs can be significantly higher in regional areas.(ABC News: Brant Cumming)

But the mayor admitted it was a challenge, particularly with high demand for housing across the state.

“Costs in doing business in the regions can be anything from 20 to 40 per cent above what you’d be paying in Adelaide,” Mr Stone said.

“That is an issue we have raised and continue to raise with the state government. What sort of incentive can they provide?

“We need to be able to get the big builders in town to be able to put up those 30, 40, 50 houses.”