Submissions flood in on ELS

WOOLGOOLGA supermarkets dominated discussion on Coffs Harbour City Council’s Employment Lands Strategy on Thursday.

Greg Ray from the Woolgoolga Chamber of Commerce and Graham Hanley from the Northern Beaches Residents Association both addressed council on the issue.

The Draft Employment Lands Strategy was on exhibition from November 2009 to March 12, 2010, and attracted 485 submissions, many from Woolgoolga and the Northern Beaches.

Mr Ray dropped a bombshell when he told councillors that a Woolworths executive had authorised him to announce that the supermarket giant had already bought commercial land within the Woolgoolga town centre with the express intention of building a supermarket, which meant the Raj Mahal site was now ‘defunct’.

Rival large retailer Coles, in conjunction with developer Buildev, has been planning to open a supermarket on the Raj Mahal site on the Pacific Highway at Woolgoolga.

Mr Ray said council had rejected the idea of a supermarket development on the Raj Mahal site for good reasons in 2007, because it recognised the plan involved a spot development, which planners universally condemned and also threatened to repeat ‘the same terrible mistake’ that had allowed Coffs Harbour’s commercial district to be split in two.

Mr Ray said the push to develop the highway land was ‘all about vested interests and ill-advised assurances’.

“You know the pressures you have been under,” Mr Ray said.

“Those pushing this issue are arguing Woolgoolga needs a third supermarket and the only available site is the Raj Mahal.

“That is a myth.

“The chamber of commerce has always acknowledged that there was a high level of demand for a third supermarket, but it should not be allowed to split the town”.

He said planning documents identified Woolgoolga as a major town centre, but there was as yet no master plan.

Mr Ray said a collaborative master plan could be developed for less than $200,000 and could be completed within three months, in time for the local environment plan in October.

He said the chamber wanted to ask the council to provide $70,000 seed money for this.

He pointed out that the council could recoup from Section 94 contributions on new developments; the Department of Planning’s planning reform program and the RTA.

The result would be a blueprint which could be used to solve other local planning challenges, Mr Ray said.

Graham Hanley argued that the planning process for Woolgoolga had already been long drawn out.

He listed the Woolgoolga Town Study of 1996; preparation of the local environment plan in 1998 and 1999; LEP amendments and the Woolgoolga Business Lands Review in 2002; consideration of the Review in 2007 and a EIS in 2009, plus three independent studies.

He said all three studies, in 2001, 2006 and the Urbis study in 2010 agreed on a number of issues, with the two most important being the leakage of retail business to other areas, estimated at $20-$30 million annually, and the fragmented ownership of relatively small blocks preventing the provision of large scale developments in the beachside precinct.

Mr Hanley said the $20 million Buildev proposal would provide up to 250 jobs during construction and 120 jobs thereafter.

Mr Hanley said the 14,000 people living between Moonee and Red Rock made up about 20 per cent of the city’s population but had inadequate retail facilities.

“This issue has aroused such strong passion among residents that they were motivated to forward 454 letters and submissions asking council to adopt the ELS,” Mr Hanley said.

“This in itself is a remarkable response compared to only 20 letters and submissions opposing it.”

The mayor, Cr Keith Rhoades, suspended standing orders to allow all councillors to have a say on the issue.

While councillors agonised over the risk of splitting the town, eight voted to adopt the revised employment lands strategy.

Cr Kerry Hines, who wants more employment land in Toormina, voted against the motion to accept the staff recommendation with some additions, which was moved by Cr John Arkan and seconded by Cr Rodney Degens.

The additions were that council further investigate enhancing the Woolgoolga Business Lands Strategy and that a collaborative approach of business operators’ representatives, community members and councillors be involved.

Cr Paul Templeton and Cr Rodney Degens respectively asked that council investigate the possibility of additional commercially zoned land in the Beach St 3C Business Zone and possible expansion of the Toormina commercial area.

Cr Arkan agreed to include these points in the motion.

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