The global fast-food chain McDonald’s is set to bite into Murwillumbah’s cafe and eatery market after Tweed Shire Council approved its first outlet in the town.
Councillors on Tuesday gave the green light to the controversial 24-hour McDonald’s drive-through outlet as part of a $3 million complex, which includes an IGA supermarket, at the town’s northern gateway on Tweed Valley Way.
Last week, a cafe owner pleaded with councillors on behalf of eight cafes and eateries to reject the proposal, saying scores of local jobs would be lost and some businesses forced to close if the fast-food giant were allowed in.
But mayor Barry Longland, admitting it was a divisive issue for the community, joined three other councillors to approve the development on a deferred commencement basis with 122 conditions. Crs Katie Milne and Joan van Lieshout opposed the move.
Crs Longland and Warren Polglase said they would support it, claiming it would be legally difficult to defend a refusal on planning grounds.
Council planners had recommended conditional approval, but rejected a proposed 10-metre neon-lit pylon sign with the company’s famed ‘golden-arches’, reducing its height to five metres as well as reducing its overall brightness. The sign, staff said, would spoil the iconic profile view of Mt Warning as motorists drove into town.
Planners have also tightened conditions to ensure building materials are sympathetic with the surrounding character of the town.
A further amendment was included, moved by supporter of the development, Cr Dot Holdom, to consider improved energy- and water-efficient design and materials for both buildings, including the potential to use rainwater tanks and recycled water.
Cr Holdom said she didn’t believe it would become the ‘death knell’ of the town.
Cr Phil Youngblutt said such retail development was a long time coming for south Murwillumbah as the area, once a thriving business district, was gradually dying and needed revitalisation.
But Cr van Lieshout said Murwillumbah’s local eateries should be supported instead, as such a development would detract from the viability of existing eateries and the town’s image.
‘An IGA is a great idea, but I don’t agree with a McDonald’s that has nothing to do with our image, and we’re trying to project a natural image for our tourism industry,’ she said.
Cr van Lieshout, who said she would prefer to see south Murwillumbah as a cultural hub with renovated buildings and artistic ventures to promote tourism, unsuccessfully moved an amendment, backed by Cr Milne, to defer the issue till the community had been properly consulted.
Cr Polglase said that when another fast-food giant, KFC, wanted to open an outlet in Murwillumbah years ago, there was a big push against it with people fearing food outlets would close, but that did not eventuate.
He said others feared the highway bypass would spell the end of the town’s business, but it had since prospered.
But Cr Milne said the KFC did not ‘stick out like a sore thumb’ as the McDonald’s would at the entrance to a national and iconic heritage landscape in a ‘beautiful riparian area’.
She said the historic but defunct Norco building on the site was an example of the town losing its heritage as the old building was proposed to be moved off somewhere else ‘but we don’t know where it’s going or how it will be treated’.
She said she was also concerned about safety as the fast-food outlet was on a ‘dangerous strip’ and children would have to cross busy roads and major intersections with no pedestrian crossings to get there.
Cr Milne said it also had the potential to ‘attract unruly and criminal behaviour, which is already a big problem in town,’ and staff would be at risk in a building in a ‘lonely old stretch’ open 24 hours.