B-doubles will be able to access the old Walco factory site in Hulberts Rd, Toormina, as part of a trial.
B-doubles will be able to access the old Walco factory site in Hulberts Rd, Toormina, as part of a trial. Rob Wright

Coffs mayor's vote saves business

AN emotional plea from businessman Ron Wallis saw Coffs Harbour mayor Keith Rhoades use his casting vote to approve access to Toormina’s Hulberts Road industrial area for B-double semi-trailers.

The approval will be on a nine-month trial between the hours of 6am and 7pm.

It is also subject to approval by the Regional Traffic Committee.

Mr Wallis is the owner of the former Walco Engineering factory premises in Toormina.

He addressed Coffs Harbour City Council on Thursday night.

Council staff recommended refusing the application for B-double access and passing the buck to the Regional Traffic Committee, but gave the councillors several options for approval.

Mr Wallis said his former factory premises, which had stood vacant for some time, were no good for retailing and were only suitable for warehousing.

“I have put a lot of work into getting the property fit for rental,” Mr Wallis said.

“It has been vacant for more than 12 months and I have a debt to the bank I have to service.

“Manufacturers don’t come to town any more.

“In 1968 I came here and established a heavy industry.

"I never even thought I would close the business down.

“I was one of the first people in that area, well before the Toormina shopping centre.”

Walco Engineering manufactured construction components and hoists at Toormina from the late 1960s to the early 1990s.

Mr Wallis said because almost all freight was now carried on B-doubles, the trucking ban was victimising him because it was preventing him from finding a tenant.

In July 2009, Coffs Harbour City Council resolved to discourage 25m B-double access to Hulberts Rd, Marcia St and Howard St.

The ban means trailers on B-doubles on the highway headed for Hulberts Rd have to be unhitched at Isles Dr and hauled separately to Hulberts Rd.

Council staff said the technical requirements for B-double access could be met with only minor reconstruction of the Toormina Rd/ Hulberts Rd intersection.

Mr Wallis, who also used his speech to take a swipe at the current council and local real estate agents, said failure to attract a tenant would mean he had no option but to demolish his factory and subdivide the property.

He said things which had happened recently did not give him a very good impression of the current council while “real estate in this town is controlled by agents”.

Councillors Kerry Hines and Jenny Bonfield are both real estate agents.

Mr Wallis said putting B-double access to Hulberts Rd out of bounds between 8am to 6pm, another option in the report to councillors, was also impractical because it would mean a second shift.

The mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, moved that B-double access to Hulberts Rd be approved on a trial basis for nine months, with access to and from the Pacific Highway only via Lyons Rd and Toormina Rd.

Cr Rhoades said restricting B-double access was discriminatory against every employer who had a business there.

He said they had just gone through the discussion about seven to 10 businesses having nowhere to go when Aldi moved in to Toormina.

The supermarket giant bought the Busy Bee shopping centre at Toormina in October 2008 for $4.08 million from local investment trust Verdia.

Busy Bee tenants’ five-year leases will expire in February 2013.

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