Penning attacks council after Big W withdrawal 

A FORMER councillor has called on Council to lead the way on Goulburn’s future retail landscape and exercise far greater rigour on planning.

Neil Penning has accused councillors of “an absolute lack of critical appraisal” regarding the Marketplace development application.

His comments follow Big W’s decision last week to pull out of the $28 million Marketplace redevelopment in Market St.

“It’s a bit of a letdown for all sorts of reasons and it’s not a good way for Goulburn to be managed,” he told the Post yesterday.

“The worst thing is that no one did their homework – not Woolworths and not Council.”

This excluded Council’s development control manager Richard Davies who identified deficiencies in the DA and the Goulburn Heritage Group, which proposed alternatives to keep Verner St open.

Mr Penning has constantly argued that big corporates should work to Goulburn’s plan, not the other way around.

“We can’t force private enterprise to do it so Council must lead the way, especially where public land is concerned,” he said.

“It was so important because it involved public land. Councillors needed to be asking ‘does it stack up?’” Mr Penning and the Goulburn Heritage Group were gearing up for a planning forum yesterday with all stakeholders. They had proposed an alternative plan to that put up by developer A&A Lederer. It kept Verner St open.

The forum was cancelled following Big W’s announcement and Lederer’s decision to redraw plans.

But the group is still pressing ahead with their plan, which keeps the Marketplace on a single block, revamps the interior, changes the exterior to a brick structure with Verner St frontage and installs ‘active’ windows that also harness solar energy. The alternative includes landscaping along Verner St and opportunities for outdoor dining along Verner St for coffee shops.

It does not include all of the planned 12 extra speciality shops but Mr Penning says there’s an argument that Goulburn doesn’t need so many.

“It would have northern exposure and nothing else in town has that,” Mr Penning said.

“…We have many drawings and at yesterday’s forum we were going to say that this site and all sites around town are worthy of more thought and that the street should not be closed.”

The group will still take the alternative plan to A&A Lederer. On Saturday members will display the proposal and collect feedback at a Goulburn Markets stall in Montague St. Mr Penning said it’s also a chance to spark debate about the city’s architectural design.

Lederer asset manager Steve Lacey told the Post last week that his company would do a feasibility study in light of Big W’s withdrawal and likely resubmit plans to Council for the revamp. The Aldi Supermarket expansion is still going ahead, at least.

Mr Penning says Goulburn is “aiming too low” with the quality of retail stores and cheaper retail is starting to dominate.

“You can count the number of places in Goulburn that have quality retail on one thumb,” he said.

“How does it change? I don’t know, but we’re knowingly dumbing ourselves down.”

But he did not think Big W or Woolworths had gone away altogether. Mr Penning believed the corporate still had “irons in the fire” with land a company bought on its behalf around Lagoon St over the past few years, shortly after it was rezoned commercial under the 2009 LEP.

In addition, he said Woolworths was pegged to establish at a proposed commercial development at the corner of Marys Mount and Crookwell Roads, owned by Ganter Constructions.

Mr Penning speculated Woolworths was simply repositioning itself, also given its recent withdrawal of plans for Magnet Mart’s expansion.

“Woolies is smart and whatever they do now, they’ll do it smartly,” he said.

A Woolworths spokeswoman said yesterday there were no firm plans for Goulburn.

“We have owned the land adjacent to the tennis courts for the past few years. At this stage we have not confirmed any plans for the land,” she said.

For now Mr Penning says there’s precious time to think about the future.

“It’s good the heat has been taken out of the debate and people can calmly consider what they want for the city,” he said.

'Short-term gain'

MEANTIME, the Goulburn Group says Big W’s pullout is “not a bad thing for our city.”

“While The Goulburn Group (TGG) is all for good, responsible development and the creation of jobs – sustainable jobs – in our town, we had issues with this project on several fronts,” president Urs Walterlin said.

“Firstly, we saw it as a nasty example of land grabbing by a developer – public land, the peoples’ land.

“Secondly, the DA was less than convincing, lacking important details. Thirdly, the fact that some councillors had already verbally supported the project in the earliest stages should be of real concern to all ratepayers.

“Even before they could have known all the details about this massive and intrusive project, some councillors more or less gave it the green light.”

Mr Walterlin said the city’s heritage, including its buildings and streetscape, were one of its major assets.

“It attracts visitors and newcomers alike and to destroy this asset by building a visually totally inappropriate structure on public land would have been an act of recklessness and economic stupidity,” Mr Walterlin said.

“A few new jobs maybe but it would be a classic case of short-term gain for long term pain. Goulburn can – and will – do better.”

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