THE approval of a Woolworths supermarket in Bermagui looks headed for a court challenge.
Bermagui community group No W in Bermagui has started proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court to challenge the validity of the Bega Valley Shire Council’s decision to approve the construction of a Woolworths supermarket and two specialty shops in the picturesque coastal village.
The BVSC approved the Woolworths development 5-4 at their April 10 meeting
“This is not just about Woolworths and the strong community opposition to it coming to town,” said Adam Millar, the group’s spokesman and a sustainable community development advocate from Bermagui with more than 15 years’ experience in environmental and planning law.
“This is also about proper decision-making processes and how this council makes its decisions.
“After having reviewed all of the relevant material, in our opinion it appears that council did not consider all of the matters that it was bound to consider, and did not follow the proper decision-making process that it was bound to follow.
“Many ratepayers, residents and tourists held these concerns before the material and the decision-making process was reviewed, and the review that has been conducted seems to confirm those concerns,” Mr Millar said.
Mr Millar said state planning laws require local councils to consider a range of matters when deciding whether or not to approve developments like the Woolworths proposal for Bermagui.
Those considerations include local planning schemes, social and economic impacts of the proposed development, public submissions and whether the development is in the public interest.
“Unfortunately under state planning laws it can’t be merit reviewed.
“So even though we don’t think it’s the right decision, what we are left with as a concerned community organisation is being able to challenge the validity of the decision.”
The council defended its assessment process, but would not comment in detail on a matter that would soon be before the court.
“Council has followed due process in regards to approving the Bermagui Woolworths development application,” group manager for planning and environment Andrew Woodley said.
“We cannot comment further on the matter as it will soon be a matter discussed in court.”
According to the LEC website, as part of judicial review the court reviews the legality of the decision, such as whether the council had power to grant consent, whether the council followed the correct legal process in determining the application and whether the council took into account relevant considerations and ignored irrelevant considerations.
The court does not determine afresh whether it would have granted consent to the development on the merits.
If the judicial review claim is upheld, the court may make a declaration, set aside the original decision, or make orders.
Mr Millar said a directions hearing would be held soon and a timeframe for the court case agreed to by all parties.
“This case will interest anyone who is concerned to ensure that local councils make their decisions properly - that they consider what they are supposed to consider and follow proper processes when making decisions about proposed new developments,” he said.
“This is particularly important for decisions that will likely have major impacts on small communities, like BVSC’s decision will to approve a Woolworths for Bermagui.
“Council expects people to pay their rates, to obtain proper approvals for how they want to use their land and to otherwise play by the rules.
“The community should be able to expect that same council also follows the rules.”
A Woolworths spokesperson said the company was aware of the proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court and will monitor the outcome.
“Woolworths appreciates the support that we've received from many residents and councillors who believe the supermarket will be a valuable asset to Bermagui and meet the needs of the local community,” the spokesperson said.