Bermagui's resounding 'no' to Woolworths

BERMAGUI community members came out in their hundreds last night to shout a resounding “no” to a proposed Woolworths in the town.

The decision is in the hands of the Bega Valley Shire Council, represented at the meeting by mayor Tony Allen and general manager Peter Tegart, but the showing of around 300 people made it clear the supermarket giant would not be moving in without a fight, even if its DA is approved.

An address by Bermagui Cellars owner Michael Trenerry was the emotional high point of the evening.

“I am not a lawyer,” Mr Trenerry began - reminiscent of Mark Antony’s remark “I am no orator” at Julius Caesar’s funeral, before delivering one of the most oft-quoted speeches in all literature.

By the time Mr Trenerry had finished, he had punctured as many holes in the development proposal as there were in Caesar’s bloodied tunic.

He attacked each of the fundamental claims put forward by Woolworths in support of its proposal: increased competition and lower prices, keeping supermarket spending local, the town’s growing population, minimal job losses and flow-on benefits to existing retailers.

“Statistics can be manipulated to put forward any position,” Mr Trenerry said.

“I urge councillors to look very closely at Woolworths projections, because the stats and the figures put forward simply don’t make sense.”

Mr Trenerry argued on current growth the town’s population would not reach Woolworths’ 2026 estimate until 2193, while comparing Narooma to Bermagui to show small retailers and Woolworths can co-exist was erroneous because “the two towns can’t be compared in any way”.

“But the real reason we’re here is to discuss Bermagui as our township,” he said.

“This development will take away the very foundation of what has built our town – family-run businesses who give back to the local community…Bermagui is not defined by its buildings, but by its heritage.

“Competition is alive and well in Bermagui, but not in the cut-throat sense of city and corporate life.”

Even taking all of Woolworths figures as gospel, Mr Trenerry said, the loss of even one job was unacceptable.

“A high gloss report from the city may say that (nine) job losses are acceptable, but I’m calling on this council to say that it is not acceptable.”

“We are not anti-development, we are pro-local.”

After the rousing ovation died down, recently arrived hydraulic engineer Neil McPherson took the microphone and stated his credentials – he had battled Woolworths twice in Sydney, losing in Newport, but successfully helping to stop a development in Annandale.

“It can be done - in Annandale, the community raised over 2000 single objections and we defeated that particular application,” Mr McPherson said.

“Make no mistake, a Woolworths in Bermagui could potentially wipe out all other stores on the main street.

“Bermagui will become a ghost town. And once the retail giant has achieved a monopoly and run other businesses out, then it will jack its prices up.”

Mr McPherson warned air-conditioning units omitted from the building plans would obscure many residents’ views over Horseshoe Bay, and they would instead be looking at a “glossy industrial shed which glows all night”.

“You will no longer enjoy the moonlight over the water,” he said.

“I urge every one of you who has an objection to this proposal to write individually to council.”

Owner of Julie Rutherford Real Estate, Julie Rutherford, restaurateur Tim Northam, Keith Bowden from the Captain’s Quarters and Cobargo Supermarket owner Horst Lohse also spoke against the proposal.

No-one spoke for the proposal, but a handful of people put their hands up in support of it.

Bega Valley Shire Mayor Tony Allen told the gathering that, due to the widespread interest, the term for public submissions supporting or objecting to the DA had been increased from 14 to 28 days.

Neither Cr Allen nor Mr Tegart could comment on the application itself, but clearly outlined the council’s process for dealing with it and any submissions received.

Mr Tegart urged those lodging submissions to base them on Section 79(C) of the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979, which the council’s staff must be guided by when judging the application.

Any objections, he said, needed to be grounded in terms of the development’s social, environmental, infrastructure or economic impacts.

The Woolworths development proposal and plans are freely available at the council’s offices, on its website or at the Bermagui Library.

Public submissions can be made from tomorrow until May 16.

Submissions should be addressed to: The General Manager, Bega Valley Shire Council, PO Box 492, Bega, NSW 2550.