Woolworths debate polarises Bermagui community

WOOLIES MEETING: Retail planner Angus Witherby presents survey findings about the impact of the proposed Bermagui Woolworths to around 200 people at Bermagui Country Club on Thursday evening.
WOOLIES MEETING: Retail planner Angus Witherby presents survey findings about the impact of the proposed Bermagui Woolworths to around 200 people at Bermagui Country Club on Thursday evening.

A PROPOSED Woolworths in Bermagui has polarised the small community, retail planner Angus Witherby told around 200 people at the Bermagui Country Club last week.

Mr Witherby and local resident Neil McPherson organised the community meeting to present preliminary results of surveys they have been conducting, to gauge public opinion and the likely effects of a Woolworths on the town.

Their findings were received by residents, business owners and five Bega Valley Shire councillors at the meeting.

Data presented showed a clear chorus of opposition to the development, but also a significant percentage of the population who would welcome the proposed 1500sqm Woolworths.

“People’s view on this are very polarised,” Mr Witherby said.

“Less than five per cent of people we spoke to are yet to decide, the rest are clearly for or against.”

Mr Witherby, a director of Melbourne-based Wakefield Planning, said research suggested 55 per cent of residents did not want to see any change to the town’s business structure – “they are happy with it just as it is.”

However, one-third of those who completed the phone or street surveys said they wanted a bigger supermarket.

“People are generally happy with current shopping in Bermagui, but the two key issues they have are price and variety,” Mr Witherby said.

“It is absolutely true that prices would be lower if this development went ahead, so there is no doubt a Woolworths would address these two key concerns – but there will be a total loss of income for local businesses.

“And that would have a range of flow-on effects.”

Possible negative consequences were overall job losses, business closures and the erosion of village-style shopping.

“Development is never wholly good or bad,” Mr Witherby said.

“Every development needs to be considered on its merits, some towns have no losses, while others lose all of their specialty trade - Tura Beach is one example of a place that hasn’t coped well with the arrival of Woolies.”

One-third of current Bermagui businesses, Mr Witherby said, were unprofitable or “marginal”, relying heavily on seasonal trade.

“There is no doubt a Woolworths could tip these businesses over the edge,” he said.

“And even those not directly competing, who think they will be ok, are vulnerable due to the loss of people walking past.

He said the lack of easy pedestrian access from the Woolworths site to Lamont St – due to slope and the street-facing aspect of shops – would see foot traffic decrease.

Thirty-five per cent of business owners surveyed said they believed the development would have a strongly negative effect on them, 15 per cent thought it would be “somewhat negative”, a quarter thought it would be positive and a quarter felt they would not be affected.

Mr Witherby’s data reflects community feedback on the Bega District News and Narooma News websites, which are split between those who support the supermarket and those who believe it would mark the decline of Bermagui.

The vast majority of those who spoke out at the meeting fell into the latter category.

One resident of 15 years did, however, assert that Bermagui had always changed, would continue to change, “and you can do nothing to stop it”.

Councillors Liz Seckold, Michael Britten, Paul Pincini, Russell Fitzpatrick and Pat Campbell absorbed the proceedings quietly, though they spoke to residents, Mr Witherby and Mr McPherson after the presentation.

Mr McPherson publicly explained that a Woolworths representative had asked to address the meeting, but the request had been denied.

“Woolworths could have presented their case to the community before now – they have had been in negotiation with the council for at least nine months and we have had four weeks to process the information,” Mr McPherson said.

“I think it’s fair we have our say.”

Woolworths contacted the Narooma News just prior to Thursday’s meeting saying it had requested a representative attend, but organisers said it was too short notice.

Submissions period extended

THERE has been plenty of vocal opposition and support for the proposed Woolworths in Bermagui, but only a modest number of submissions have been lodged with the council.

It was suggested at last week’s community meeting that people were intimidated by Bega Valley Shire Council general manager Peter Tegart’s advice, at a previous meeting, that submissions refer to the Section 79C of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.

Section 79C covers a number of development considerations, which can be easily understood and used as the basis for any submission supporting or opposing the development.

These include the likely environmental impacts of a Woolworths on the natural and built environments – such as noise, visual impact, parking and traffic.

The social and economic implications for Bermagui, suitability of the proposed site in Young St, effect on the character of the town and whether the development is “in the public interest” are also relevant.

Experienced retail planner Angus Witherby said he believed the Woolworths DA could be opposed on a number of planning issues.

The Bega Valley Shire Council advised today that the closing date for public submissions in relation to the development application for the proposed Woolworths supermarket at Bermagui has been extended until close of business on May 30.

The submissions were originally scheduled to close today (Wednesday, May 16).

The council’s group manager of planning and environment, Andrew Woodley, said the council appreciated that this is a significant development for the Bermagui community and the extra exhibition time will allow any concerned residents to submit their comments to the council for consideration.

The development application and key documents are still available on the council’s website for viewing.

For specific inquiries regarding the application or the assessment process, call planning coordinator Cecily Hancock on 6499 2222.

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