9 February 2018

Residents fear tardy Coombs shops will be a white elephant

| Ian Bushnell
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The unfinished Coombs shops: the sign says it all, says residents. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

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.”

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There’s a big hole in planning laws if a developer is approved to build something, e.g. shops, then does not seek to tenant them and the government cannot (will not?) take any action to ensure the shops open. What’s the point of empty shops? Approval to build should include a requirement to open the shops. Our ‘government’ can fix this.

Capital Retro10:29 am 12 May 18

Good suggestion. Green space is becoming scarce in Geoconopolis.

Little Gezzy Bear9:44 am 11 May 18

The last of the construction fences and the work signs have now been removed, but it’s still not finished with a section to the left of the main entrance still to be completed. Yesterday there was a worker cleaning the windows but no other activity. There are no signs that any business has signed up to move in. Is the-riotact able to ask the owner what is happening?

As well as the extraordinary delay in the development of the Coombs shops, it seems the structure and the car park is of poor quality. It it ever opens, the shops will probably deteriorate quickly into an eyesore. This is yet another example of how poorly the ACT Government plans and maintains newer suburbs. They just not interested in anything past outside the inner north.

It’s not being built by the government and there is little they can do to make the owner of the building do it any better. So long as it is structural sound and not dangerous is all they can enforce.

As mentioned elsewhere this developer has a certain taste that is lets say pretty basic. Go look at the Amaroo servo, which is another of his edifices. I am surprised there isn’t painted green concrete somewhere in the design mascarading as green space.

According to http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-government-reduced-size-of-proposed-coombs-supermarket-week-before-auction-20180209-h0vu9w.html the Koko development can have a 1500m2 supermarket because it is zoned CZ5 Mixed use while the Coombs shops are zoned CZ4 Local Centre and has a size limit of 1000m2.

How is it that supermarket in a building that will have housing above it and probably minimal parking is allowed to be larger than a supermarket is a dedicated shopping area?

Surely the government can see how ridiculous that is.

And as for Mr Gentleman. It is obvious you have no interest in doing more than the bare minimum and don’t really care about the residents of this area. I hope they remember that at the next election.

Since development approval for the shops was granted in 2016, a neighbouring development consisting of 30 townhouses and a six-storey apartment building has sprung up almost overnight. It couldn’t possibly be due to differences in build quality – anyone who’s been near the shops knows all too well how cheap they look. Why on earth are the shops taking so long by comparison?

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