Long queues of shoppers at the check-outs and congested car parks remind people every week Goulburn need not hold out much longer before another major supermarket comes to town. The question is where will it go? Coles and Woolworths anchor the malls that look like Goulburn’s two ugly sisters on either end of the central business district. A full-line supermarket outside the CBD is unlikely given the planning laws, and a precedent in 2015 which cut down to 750 square metres a proposed supermarket at Mary’s Mount. The original proposal for 3200 square metres in 2012 was later found to be viable and unlikely to cause CBD shop closures.
In neighbouring Canberra and Mittagong in the Southern Highlands, developers have jumped the fence, as it were, to set up supermarkets outside of designated CBDs.
Canberra Airport which is outside the ACT planning laws has lured Costco and Woolworths and big box retailers to Majura Park. Across the road IKEA has built a business that, like those in Majura Park, depend on shoppers from a wide radius including Goulburn.
Along the Old Hume Highway at Mittagong two commercial centres have sprung up over recent years outside of the CBD. The Highlands Marketplace has 790 car parking spaces, Woolworths and Big W and 36 speciality stores. (The operation is owned by Charter Hall, which owns Goulburn Square in Auburn Street).
At 205 Old Hume Highway in Mittagong, Highlands Hub comprises 13 major retailers including Barbecues Galore, Best and Less, Beacon Lighting, Adairs, Office Works, Rebel and Pillow Talk.
Rival Canberra and Southern Highlands landlords operating outside these unconventional retail centres hate them. Eighty property owners who attended a 2011 strategy workshops for the Mittagong town precinct plan complained of fragmented business developments, which had left empty shops in the business district. Big brands and their customers, on the other hand, love them.
Some property commentators say Goulburn is stifling itself and should allow a full-line supermarket outside the CBD. “Why come into town and fight traffic for a $400 grocery shop,” one says. He says even with the demolition of the old Lilac City Cars building people struggle to find a car park in Marketplace.
“This is a landlords issue, it is all concentrated so they can charge huge rates,” he says. “Why attract ants to the same honeypot all the time? People are always complaining about parking.”
Ganter Constructions has started building a mix of developments at Marys Mount with a pre-school which will be completed early next year. The scaled-down supermarket should open later in 2018 or early 2019. Spokesman Richard Toparis says major supermarkets and independents are lining up to lease the supermarket space, confident it will thrive.
Mayor Bob Kirk says Goulburn is going ahead and he does not accept the proposition that confining supermarkets to the CBD is regressive. The council has invested in long overdue enhancements in the CBD and is following well established planning guidelines.
But when you see the exterior ugliness of the malls, like the roof-top air-conditioning visible from the main street, blank walls and traffic congestion, ask yourself, what will change if the planning doesn’t? Allow competition in the city and they might lift their game.