Major supermarket player Woolworths will apply to the ACT Government in the coming months for a direct sale of land at Hawker shops to support its redevelopment plans at the Belconnen centre.
The move comes after the recent release of a consultation report that claims majority community support for its plans, which include upgrading its current Metro store to a full-line supermarket.
“It is our intention to approach the government for a direct land sale, and our next action is to submit a Direct Sale Application in the coming months,” a Woolworths spokesperson told Region.
Plans for a possible redevelopment of Hawker Village come just over a decade after the ACT Government walked away from a proposal that included a relocated supermarket, six levels of apartments, an expanded village square and a contentious underground after community resistance.
This time Woolworths, as well as upgrading its store, wants to also modernise a section of the centre, incorporating specialty shops, basement parking and other amenities.
This would require Woolworths to acquire adjacent ACT land, including the car park, through a direct sale arrangement with the government.
In 2012, the government’s plans were considered too much for the suburban shops and the community, which valued its village character.
The Woolworths consultation report claims that 84 per cent of feedback either explicitly supported or expressed no objection to the project.
Of those, 56 per cent expressed support for the entire proposed development; 28 per cent raised general comments or questions without objecting to the development, while 16 per cent did not support a full-line supermarket or comprehensive precinct refresh.
Most respondents supported a larger Woolworths store with an expanded product range, including a deli, bakery and separate liquor store.
While a revitalisation of the shops would be welcome, there was concern about the impact on existing businesses and maintaining a sense of community within the precinct, incorporating open spaces, community facilities, and community-focused businesses.
Feedback noted the importance of maintaining natural light, optimising traffic flow, and ensuring ample parking options, although opinions varied on whether to retain the open-air car park or introduce an underground car park.
A new children’s playground or dedicated space for children was a recurring request, the report said.
Any development would need to feature sustainability measures such as solar panels, recycling centres and high sustainability ratings.
Belconnen Community Council chair Lachlan Butler said the council conducted its own survey and came to similar conclusions, although at this very early stage of the proposal, there were not enough details for the community to come to definitive conclusions.
“Even though there are a variety of viewpoints on the scale of the development and how the overall village will look, there is still consensus on some aspects – making sure there is a community and social hub, still having those open spaces, those communal areas, redoing the playground, and keeping that overall village vibe,” he said.
The main differences of opinion concerned parking and the development’s size.
“It’s very clear that people want improvement; it’s just the scale that is the key differing viewpoint,” Mr Butler said.
Whether the government would be amenable to a direct sale of land was also at issue, given it was unwilling to do it at nearby Kippax, he said
“The government really needs to step up and say whether it is willing to consider a direct sale,” Mr Butler said.
“It’s not really fair for Woolworths and the community to get invested in a process that’s never going to get support from government.”
Mr Butler said some small businesses believed an upgrade to Woolies would attract more customers while others, such as the bakery, could feel threatened.
He said new residents wanted to be able to go to their local Woolworths rather than travel to another centre, and the Ginninderry development had created a lot of through traffic.
But older residents who had been in the area for decades wanted the centre to stay the same.
Mr Butler said Woolworths’ consultation was only an initial exploration of community views and further detail would need to be provided to gain a clear understanding of where people stood.
“The devil is in the detail,” he said.
But he believed there should be a way to achieve a redevelopment that met community aspirations.
The Woolworths spokesperson said more information would be provided when it became available.
“Our goal is to move forward with our revitalisation of the Hawker precinct, taking on board the feedback we have received from the community during our consultation phase whilst retaining the village atmosphere,” the spokesperson said.
A government spokesperson said Direct Sales were assessed on the merits of the proposal and the government had agreed to a number of applications in recent years that supported and provided improvement opportunities in Group and Town Centres.
Hawker Group Centre was included in the Belconnen District Strategy as a centre that could benefit from improvements and that could support further employment.
“Any proposals related to selling, expanding or upgrading sites in the group centre would need to be consistent with the Territory Plan, including any assessment requirements in the Belconnen District Policy,” the spokesperson said.
The government was not considering a new master plan for Hawker Village.