Coombs residents fear their shopping centre, when it eventually opens, will become a white elephant, accusing the Government of a planning failure in potentially allowing three supermarkets to operate within close proximity.
They are exasperated at the delays that have beset the still incomplete centre being developed by Renato Cervo after he bought the site at auction in 2015 with the development application approved in late 2016.
Mr Cervo, who has said he was moving as quickly as possible to complete the centre, has blamed delays on objections to the DA.
While the nearby health and medical centre is filling with tenants, including gym Club Lime which is due to open late this month, the Coombs shops is still a building site and according to Civium agent David Grimmond, at least a month or two from completion and tenants still being sought, including for the 1,000 square metre supermarket.
Resident Damian Breach said Planning Minister Mick Gentleman had not responded to letters and appeared to have washed his hands of the situation.
The Minister has said Mr Cervo had two years from the start of building to finish the shopping centre, which gave him until early 2019. The timing of the opening of the building was then “a commercial decision”.
The Minister told The RiotACT that the Planning and Land Authority has no ability to ‘step in’ in this case, having applied the required planning process after an adequate development application from the proponent.
“Legislated timeframes are associated with this and the planning and land authority will allow the process to run its course,” he said.
“The ACT Government has zoned to allow for a shop, sold the land for a shop, approved the DA for a shop and supports the development of a shop on that site – but the actual opening and operating of a shop there is a commercial concern. It is not the Government’s role to speed up a commercial process.”
But now another developer, John Krnc, is proposing to build another shopping centre, including a 1,500 square metre supermarket, only a 100 metres away across John Gorton Drive in Wright.
Publicity for Koko Molonglo promises the centre will have the supermarket and other retailers including a ‘hair salon, eateries, bike retailer and bike workshop’.
Further along John Gorton Drive in Denman Prospect, Capital Estate Developments’ proposed shopping centre is expected to be open in September.
Mr Breach said everybody in Coombs and Molonglo Valley was fed up with the situation and he questioned the planning system, saying a tender process instead of auction may have headed of these issues.
“If that’s the system, the system doesn’t work, the system needs changing,” he said.
“Why can’t something like this go out to tender so they have to put in their plans with their bid as part of the tender process, so any issues get resolved before exchange of contracts.”
He said the area was not big enough to sustain three shopping centres over the next 10 years, and Coombs would be the one to miss out.
“From a planning perspective how can they let it happen, how they can they even entertain it?” he said.
He believes the Government should help the developer find a tenant and not approve another supermarket so near to Coombs.
“We want the Government to recognise that they are partially responsible for ensuring the delivery of critical infrastructure. They say it’s a commercial matter but it’s actually a community facility with a commercial presence,” he said.
But Mr Gentleman said the onus was now on Mr Cervo and the move to develop a supermarket in Wright was a commercial decision for that proponent.
“Coombs and Denman Prospect are both local centres and therefore supermarkets are an allowable use. It should be noted that there is a requirement of use for a supermarket within the lease agreement for Coombs,” he said.
The Minister rejected the notion that the planning system had failed Coombs residents. “Timeframes are set by Government and the proponent is responsible for their individual business development opportunities. Retail facilities have been developed in many other new suburbs without extensive delay,” he said.
Weston Creek Community Council Chair Tom Anderson said this was a saga that had gone on for too long, “and it doesn’t look like it’s got an ending”.
He said there was something wrong in the planning system when you can have people in an area for three or four years and they don’t even have a corner store.
“It’s as if the Goverment hasn’t got the will to try to encourage the developer to get it open,” he said.
Mr Anderson said the size of the supermarket was also an issue with many saying the Government mandated floorspace of 1,000 sq m was too small for anyone to want to take it up.
With no shops in Molonglo, Cooleman Court was feeling the pressure, with car parks at a premium.
“We’ve been on about parking since 2009 with the foresight of what was going to happen in Molonglo. And all we got was 76 extra spaces,” he said.
Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning Mark Parton said he was not surprised residents were frustrated.
“Canberra’s planning system is far too complex, making it difficult even for planning officials to navigate,” he said. “The planning system should provide certainty for Canberra developers and the community but time and time again we see the opposite is true.”