What’s with Council’s decision to reject the application for a Coles at Beerwah

By Greg Brown

SUNSHINE Coast Council’s decision to reject the three speculative development applications for a new Coles supermarket, McDonald’s and a petrol station on industrial lands in Beerwah has made strategic planning a hot topic among locals … even if they don’t know much about strategic planning.

Briefly, the background is that Coles gambled that it could sweep aside the future planning designs for Beerwah, developed over the past few decades, by putting forward a scheme to promote a homemaker centre on lands that everyone knew were strategically earmarked for future light industrial small businesses.

Coles announced it would start with a petrol station, a McDonald’s, a smaller showroom and a Coles supermarket, with no firm commitment to building the rest of it at any time in the future.

In reality (and unsurprisingly), Coles was most interested in getting a Coles approved but knew that an application at that site for a supermarket alone would never get development consent.

The council made it clear that the proposal was fraught with problems and highlighted its concerns on several occasions.

In the end, council planning assessors couldn’t ignore the weight of the conflicts and inconsistencies the proposal had with the sound development principles found in the planning scheme and recommended the three applications be refused. All elected councillors agreed and voted unanimously to support the planning staff’s recommendation.

The reporting of this decision has created an outpouring of comment and questioning from locals.

Between the hundreds of views, claims, assertions, allegations and conspiracy theories, a number of currents of opinion can be gleaned.

Let’s take a look at the main ones.

We want Coles
Most people think having a Coles in the hinterland is a good thing. Good for convenience, good for competition, good for jobs and good for increasing choice.

Some don’t, saying the existing eight supermarket stores is enough for now.

The council’s case wasn’t that Coles isn’t a good idea for the area, just that the chosen location wasn’t right for the long-term future of Beerwah as a commercial centre.

The argument isn’t so clear on a McDonald’s. Most who support a fast-food takeaway option say they would rather see something else (such as a KFC) over more of what we already have.

No-one mentioned the virtues of another petrol station.

Why doesn’t the council do what we want?
A lot of commentary focused on the perception that the council had made a decision without asking locals what they want.

“These Muppets are all clearly out of touch with what the community want!!” is just one example.

The council had economic experts look at the evidence presented by Coles. They disagreed with the Coles consultant and found that, at the moment, the economics don’t stack up to support a full-line supermarket without causing a harmful impact on the existing supermarket stores.

On the matter of asking locals what they want, the council actually did as part of the development process.

Council reported that during the public submission phase, 50 people made voiced opinions through the official channel, with 41 opposing the developments and only nine in support.

As well, the current planning scheme was drafted and advertised in 2014, and concerned locals had their chance to raise objections and call for changes at that time.

The planning scheme is about to be rewritten again. Very soon you will again be able to have your say on the future of Beerwah. If you want that particular area to become a separate commercial zone away from the heart of Beerwah, then this will be the perfect time to put your hand up, get involved and have your say.

What about the jobs?
A consistent comment was that the proposal would bring jobs to the area.

This is true. Coles estimated that there would be about 180 jobs created, although no estimation was given to the number of jobs lost from other businesses due to the lost trade (like takeaways shops, restaurants, petrol stations and the other existing supermarkets). Nor was there an estimate of the number of businesses (most likely small to medium family-owned enterprises) that would not be able to establish on the lost industrial land, as well as the number of local jobs never created.

Woolworths carpark a nightmare
A large number of comments related to the difficulties of parking at the Beerwah Village and Marketplace shopping centre. Many people commented in favour of Coles because they thought that it would reduce the parking pressure around Woolworths.

This is a valid comment about that carpark. It is tight and you need to keep your wits about you. The council has approved an expansion to the Beerwah shopping centre that will see an extra 118 car parks built. This should go some way to helping.

There’s nowhere else for Coles to go
This is an argument Coles put forward to justify it building on the industrial land. It said that there was nowhere available that was large enough to locate the homemaker centre.

This may be true as there isn’t a 13ha site anywhere in the right zoning areas where a homemaker centre could be built.

However, with a 3,700m2 Coles supermarket that isn’t strictly the case. There are commercial properties in the centre of Beerwah that Coles could purchase and redevelop just like Aldi did. The same could be said for the centre of Landsborough.

A 3,000m2 plus of new floorspace has been approved in the Beerwah Village and Marketplace centre. Also, the whole shopping centre was on the market a few years ago. Maybe Coles could make an offer to purchase that site and build a homemaker centre there.

There is a 3ha (that’s 30,000m2) block of land available in Glass House Mountains town centre that was approved in 2012 to build a large shopping centre.

So, if Coles want to build a Coles, it can and the council isn’t stopping it – it just needs to do it in the right place.

Comment from Joan Tucker, long-term local businesswoman
“The unanimous decision of the councillors to support the planning officers’ recommendation that Coles development applications be refused is good news for Beerwah and the hinterland townships,” said Mrs Tucker.

“Small businesses in the Glasshouse Country region can now make plans going forward, without the uncertainty that has prevailed since the announcement of this proposal in late 2019.

“Back in time, the establishment of Woolworths saw businesses relocate to the centre and others close, but the timing was right for such development, which paved the way for retail growth in all the hinterland townships. There is ample space for a Coles supermarket within the existing town zoning, where businesses complement each other.

“With the upcoming opening of the Bells Creek connection to Roys Road there will be potential for more day-trippers to visit the hinterland to experience what this region has to offer, from museums to dog parks and everything in between. From Beerburrum to Mooloolah this region is spoiled for choice with dine-in and takeaway outlets, all popular with tourists.

“The approval of extra retail space adjoining Beerwah Marketplace and the approval of some small in-fill residential developments within the region, will ensure the viability of our townships going forward – steady and sustained growth within the town centres.”

Comment from Coles
“We believe Coles’ investment in a new development, which includes a supermarket, homemaker centre, petrol station and fast food restaurant, would deliver significant benefits to the local community by creating jobs and a new exciting shopping experience for residents. We are now reviewing our options following council’s decision.”

Comment from Rick Baberowski, Division 1 councillor
“I read and listened closely to many arguments on these three concurrent applications over some time now and, ultimately, I had to conclude that they would have done more harm than good to our community,” said Cr Baberowski.

“Let’s look at the overall aim of these applications: to establish a major shopping complex well outside of the existing centre of Beerwah.

“This new centre would have had poor access to the CBD at an already busy intersection, poor public transport and pedestrian access, and would have required giving up land that is zoned for industrial uses, losing the broad range of future jobs that go with those kinds of businesses.

“Even worse in my view, the application to vary the planning scheme would have further fragmented the existing centre in Beerwah. Just over a decade ago our town went through a major crisis when the rail overpass cut the town centre in two and I was elected during the difficult times that followed. I just didn’t see the sense in repeating that history by introducing yet another separate centre.

“I know that the community is divided on this and the main two reasons I’ve heard for people wanting the development are jobs and convenience.

“I know that some residents were excited about the prospect of the jobs that would come with the developments and I fully understand the importance of that.

“That’s why I closely read the officers’ report, the independent economic assessment and listened to both existing business owners and residents.

“In my view, the evidence clearly indicated that this proposal would mostly just move jobs from one location in Beerwah to another. I don’t think that’s necessary or fair on the existing businesses that have been making a go of it during tough times.

“I acknowledge that Beerwah is ready for a new popular fast food restaurant. However, there is plenty of land suitable for fast food outlets in the existing planning scheme. They may just need to consider locating near existing local businesses rather than setting up in a new location that would draw people away.

“As for much larger homemaker centres, the council report noted that the Caloundra South town centre (Aura) has 60,000m2 of capacity already permitted and will be highly accessible to Glasshouse Country townships once the Bells Creek arterial road is completed, which is due next year.

“It’s also anticipated that the planned Beerwah East development area will provide even more opportunities for all sorts of big brand offerings with even shorter travel times.

“So, in the near future, our distinctive townships will get all the additional convenience of these new major centres along with growing potential patronage coming from well-connected neighbouring populations; all while not needing to radically change or lose our country town look, form and function. And having listened to our communities for many years, attractive, sustainable country towns and not over urbanising is what our communities want!”