Tweed shire councillors have unanimously rejected a bid by giant retailer Woolworths to open a full-line supermarket in the town in a move aimed at allaying business owners fearing closure or dramatic loss of trade.
Tweed Shire Council planners had recommended the plan to build the 4,000-square-metre supermarket on a former bowls club site in Brisbane Street, angering business owners who railed against it at a public meeting this week.
But at last night’s meeting, councillors expressed concerns a new Woolies supermarket will compete will Coles in Sunnyside Mall and two smaller supermarkets in the CBD, plus a new one recently opened on the northern outskirts of town, to the detriment of local business.
The move would have required the rezoning of the site of the defunct Murwillumbah Bowls and Sports Club, which amalgamated with Murwillumbah Services Club four years ago and which ceased trading two years ago.
Cr Warren Polglase moved for rejection on the grounds it was not in the community’s interest, saying the town’s current population was not enough to service a third major retail supermarket.
Cr Polglase said there was already ‘a large drift’ of Murwillumbah people going to Tweed Heads to shop and the recently-opened supermarket in town needed an opportunity to grow.
‘That’ not to say that in a few years’ time it may come up again,’ the veteran councillor, who had he who had previously backed the plan, said.
Cr Carolyn Byrne agreed, saying private and recreational land surrounding the bowls club site would be impacted on and locals would face amenity loss with delivery-truck movements in their streets.
Cr Byrne said she was concerned three areas of retail in the town would ‘dilute’ local shoppers by spreading them over those three areas.
She said it was also a youth precinct and the site had flood issues.
Cr Katie Milne said she was surprised at the big turnout of the business community at this week’s public meeting, praised traders for getting involved in the issue.
‘It’s not just fear-based concerns (against the supermarket) they have, but real thought went into, the preservation of existing jobs and businesses has to be the overriding factor and it’s vital to preserve the Main Street shopping strip and consolidate that area,’ she said.
Cr Barry Longland said it was ‘not the right timing and probably not the right place’ for the supermarket.
Cr Phil Youngblutt agreed, saying another supermarket had just opened in the town and the timing was ‘inopportune’.
Tweed mayor Gary Bagnall, a Murwillumbah cafe owner, absented himself from debate, citing a perceived conflict of interest because of his involvement in the food industry.
Cr Bagnall told Tuesday’s public meeting he opposed the supermarket because it was ‘bad planning’ to put a major supermarket in a predominantly residential area.
In his report to council, chief planner Vince Connell argued there were pros and cons for extending the commercial core precinct of Murwillumbah into Brisbane Street.
The retailer’s report said there was a sufficient and growing population in the town of around 22,000 people, rising to 24,000 persons by 2026, ‘which, based on their industry benchmark of full-line supermarket viability every 8,000-9,000 persons, places Murwillumbah Town Centre well within a serviceable category’.
‘Of the 126 retail shop-fronts within the town centre, it is estimated that the new supermarket would only compete directly with the 11 specialty businesses comprising of: butchers, bakeries and fruit shop, as well as other existing supermarkets,’ the report said.
‘It is further estimated the new supermarket would contribute about $17m of additional supermarket spend within the trade area, and that during and post construction phases upward of 609 jobs are likely to be generated both directly and indirectly.’