6 February, 2024
New retail precinct a huge game changer for Atherton
A DECISION by Tablelands Regional Council has opened the door for a new retail precinct, which is likely to be the new home of Bunnings and Harvey Norman, to go ahead near John Cole Toyota, despite a number of serious concerns including whether it will undermine the town’s central business district.
Council has now given preliminary approval for the development which is designed to attract large retail operations such as Bunnings and Harvey Norman that have already expressed a need to move to larger sites to expand their product range, have loading docks and more car parking for customers.
In what could be a game changer for the town, the new development is designed to attract Large Format Retail (LFR) which is usually comprised of stand-alone stores selling products such as furniture, floor coverings and other goods of a homemaker nature.
Property owner John Cole gave a presentation to the council prior to the meeting, saying existing businesses should not fear the new development as it would bring even more customers to Atherton, increase employment opportunities and boost the local economy.
He revealed that national retailers, some of which did not yet have a presence in Atherton, were keen to establish in the town.
“Our development will draw people from the Gulf and Mareeba areas, and this will create a flow on for other businesses in Atherton, stopping buyers going to Cairns,” Mr Cole said.
“We’re talking to large national retailers, some not even here yet, that need expansion and space that isn’t available in Atherton’s town centre.
“These national retailers want more position, position, position land so they can be seen to enable the expansion of their businesses.
“They also would rather be in Atherton than to go to Mareeba where we know, local developers have been trying to entice them.”
Mayor Rod Marti later said the development could include “garden centres, showrooms, and hardware and trade supplies”.
The proposed precinct stands to generate approximately 164 full time jobs and would reduce “escape spending” outside the region by approximately 12%, according to the council report.
But many of those who objected to the development have a contrary view, arguing the new precinct will take away business from the main town centre.
In its submission, Tableland Investments, which owns the Silo Shopping Centre, threatened to take legal action if the council approved the development application, claiming there was no demonstrated need for more than 5000sqm of LFR, and the new development would provide up to 16,400sq m.
The development would have a “devastating” impact on Atherton’s main town centre if it went ahead because it would “undermine its role, function, and vitality”, according to a letter from Tablelands Investments director Peter Scott.
If council did not refuse the application, he said his company would instruct its solicitors to commence proceedings in the Planning and Environment Court.
Charter Hall, which owns the Atherton Square shopping complex, also submitted an objection and included a review by consultants Bull & Bear of the economic impact assessment report compiled by Cummings Economics, challenging data within the document and the conclusions it makes in regard to the need for LFR development.
In response to that submission, council commissioned an independent review of the Cummings report and said it “sufficiently demonstrated and confirmed” there was a need.
According to Mayor Marti, the new retail precinct “has been designed to complement the current region’s retail offerings on land within the urban footprint”.
Before the meeting, builder Max Slade urged the council to approve the application.
“The need to expand the economy of Atherton as the centre of the Tablelands and surrounds has been underestimated over the past five years. There is nowhere in the present planning scheme for large box retail and large retailers want to build in Atherton and not in Mareeba,” Mr Slade said.
Deputy Mayor Kevin Cardew thanked the developers for having the foresight in wanting to invest in the local government area.
“It just shows we have strong growth, we have strong economic opportunities in our shire,” he said.
“We do need to expand, we do need to develop and I’m thankful that we have developers in our area such as John Cole and others that see the future of our community and are willing to invest in it for our benefit and the whole shire’s benefit.”
He also noted concerns in some of the submissions about stormwater but believes that the development “and the one next door”, will alleviate some of those stormwaters issues.