19 March 2020

Koko approval means supermarket in sight for Coombs and Wright residents

| Ian Bushnell
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Coombs shops

The Coombs shops have been virtually empty since it completion in 2018. Photos: File.

The approval of the Koko Molonglo development in Wright will come as a relief to the growing area’s residents who have been struggling without a functioning supermarket despite the completion in 2018 of the nearby Coombs shops.

The ongoing debacle of Coombs’ empty shopping centre prompted the Weston Creek Community Council to recently call on the Government to intervene.

In a letter to the Planning Minister Mick Gentleman, chair Tom Anderson says the issue has become more pressing in light of the possible closure of the site’s sole tenant, Ajijo, whose owners have suffered multiple break-ins and are now considering moving the store to another location.

“The time has come for the ACT Government to take decisive action to resolve what threatens to become one of the greatest planning blunders since the advent of self-government,” Mr Anderson writes.

The council called on the Minister to resume the Crown lease to allow the shops to be redeveloped or sold to a developer capable of providing an operational supermarket, or to call in the neighbouring Koko Molonglo development.

The Minister has insisted that his hands are tied over the Coombs lease but he too will be relieved that with the Koko approval a solution is in sight.

The revised Koko proposal, minus the controversial KFC takeaway, has been approved with a range of conditions, including that the supermarket must not be combined with any other shops, including a liquor store.

A render of the planned Koko Molonglo development.

It includes an eight-storey, 132-unit apartment complex and future 91-room hotel, a 1500 square metre supermarket, five retail shops and basement parking.

Developer John Krnc Group has provided a new Master Plan and replaced the KFC with townhouses, along with a number of other changes to the development.

The Koko website says Woolworths is a confirmed tenant.

The revised proposal addressed matters such as inappropriate use, poor frontages, building height, overshadowing, lack of open space and inadequate landscaping, pedestrian safety and integration with surrounding walking paths, traffic concerns and the visual impact of signs.

But while many will welcome the go-ahead some residents will still be unhappy with the proposal.

The Coombs saga began in 2015 when Renato Cervo bought the land but took three years to develop the site after two development applications fell foul of planning rules.

The site was supposed to contain a 1000 square metre supermarket but the development has stood empty apart from the grocer since it was completed in 2018.

Meanwhile a stone’s throw away in Wright, the government sold the Koko site with zoning allowing a bigger 1500 square metre supermarket but the proposed development failed to pass muster with the planning authority, forcing the developer to dump the planned KFC takeaway.


The sole tenant at the Coombs shops may close due to repeated break-ins.

The result is that Molonglo residents who can drive are shopping at Weston’s Cooleman Court, putting pressure on parking facilities and prompting the Government to announce a new car park will be built on parkland opposite on Parkinson Street.

Mr Anderson says this is no substitute for Coombs and Wright residents having their own supermarket.

Those without vehicles, such as public housing residents, are lugging groceries home by public transport or pushing trolleys from Weston.

While a fair degree of community anger has been directed at Mr Cervo, Mr Anderson says the problems appear to have been made worse by the government’s supermarket policies, which initially saw the Coombs site reduced to 1000 square metres from 1500 square metres under its CZ4 zoning, but then allowed the Koko site (CZ5) to be 1500 square metres, thus making Wright a more attractive proposition.

“Obviously, none of this would have been a problem if the owner of the Coombs shops had submitted, built and opened a compliant set of shops in the 33-month period between the two sites being sold,” an attachment to Mr Anderson’s letter states.

“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and Coombs and Wright residents are now stuck with a largely empty set of shops and no expectation of an operational supermarket within a 3.5 km radius until some time in the early 2020s.”

Mr Anderson says the people of Coombs and Wright want somebody to take responsibility for the situation and that after half a decade of delay they are owed a resolution.

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I think it is high time for the ACT Auditor General to investigate the entire Coombs shops debacle. It is my understanding that the lease conditions associated with the block were altered prior to the auction which resulted in Renato Cervo being the only bidder.

From our direct experience with the “Coombs local shops” (or should that be the “Coombs car park”, a more modest endeavour with which he has admirably succeeded, great for learning to drive, not so great as shops), it is certain that Mr Cervo is not the kind of commercial landlord needed anywhere in Canberra. I would like to think that his behaviour in this specific instance will limit his future success in ACT Government land auctions, we can only hope.

The whole reason that the ACT Government gave for moving public housing out of Red Hill, Civic and Griffith into the Molonglo Valley was “because of the facilities” (more likely it was the significant money raised by selling the land on which the previous public housing stood). Well Mr Barr, where are these facilities? The residents of the Molonglo Valley are STILL waiting. I don’t believe you will get many votes for a larger temporary car park in Weston Creek that’s only needed because you can’t manage the actual planning needed to get facilities built in the Molonglo Valley! Get your finger out and start working on the Molonglo Valley commercial centre rather than wasting more money on band-aid treatments to make up for the innumerable past planning failures!

Mr Gentleman and co have already failed us twice on the Coombs shops.

1) If the anecdotes are correct the owner has a track record of similar poor behaviour. The land should never have been sold to him.

2) Mr Gentleman has been incapable of resolving the issue.

So having already proven he is incompetent, he faces the final test. Does Mr Gentleman have integrity?

He has promised that the block would not be rezoned for housing. Once Koko gets moving and especially if Ajijo closes it seems very likely the developer will want the block rezoned.

Will Mr Gentleman keep his promise? Will he keep to the spirit of it, or wriggle out on a technicality?

Time will reveal how much integrity Mr Gentleman has.

He has failed us twice, please try for redemption instead of going for a hat trick!

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