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Sydney’s supermarket sprawl under fire

The battle for grocery dollars in the inner city escalated this week after a Sydney Council committee considered an application for a new supermarket in Erskineville reports Robert Burton-Bradley in Central on 16 September 2009.
The development application will now go before a full meeting of council on Monday night.

Locals claim the proposed supermarket will destroy the village atmosphere of Erskineville and bring extra traffic.

It is one of more than a dozen applications received by Sydney Council for new supermarkets in the past year.

If approved, the supermarket would occupy almost 900sq m on Erskineville Rd and operate seven days a week from 7am to 10pm Monday to Saturday and 8am to 10pm on Sundays.

The development would provide 16 off-street parking spaces and a loading dock.

Friends of Erskineville Village spokesman Paul Howard said the supermarket would attract shoppers from other suburbs because of its size and add more traffic to an already congested Erskineville Rd.

“We’re opposed because the developer is promoting it as grocery store for the local community, but it’s a supermarket which will draw on a bigger target market than the local area and it will draw cars and create traffic problems,” Mr Howard said.

Residents and businesses have expressed concern a supermarket would hurt local business. A petition against the supermarket gathered almost 3000 signatures.

“They are that aggressive and not really listening to the community. We are fighting corporate greed,” Mr Howard said. “Woolworths has one of the worst records in the country when it comes to being anti-competitive.

“There are two other supermarkets in walking distance. We don’t need a third.”

A spokesman for Woolworths confirmed last year that it was poised to operate the site if the supermarket was built by the developer Harold Finger.

It’s the second development application lodged for the site by Mr Finger. He previously lodged an application for a supermarket twice the size of the current proposal, which the council rejected in 2008.

A subsequent appeal made by Mr Finger in the Land and Environment Court was rejected before he submitted the current proposal.

Mr Finger did not return Central’s calls, but in a previous interview he expressed surprise at the reaction from residents and Sydney Council when he first tried to build a supermarket at the site.

“Having purchased the site we got a reasonable feel from residents and a positive nod from council and traffic planners,’’ Mr Finger said. “We basically told them what we were planning to do and they said they did not have a problem. Council said as long as we comply with the planning rules we are OK.”

In the meantime, residents of Waterloo have the opposite problem. They are crying out for more supermarkets according to the local MP.

Last month, residents with the help of Heffron MP Kristina Keneally surveyed the grocery choices for low-income residents and made a price comparison.

They found it was cheaper to travel all the way to an ALDI store at Eastlakes than it was to shop locally.

Ms Keneally said the results were outrageous and urged the council to approve more supermarkets in the area including a Waterloo ALDI application currently before council.

Ms Keneally and some residents were concerned that Sydney Council would reject other supermarket applications to protect its planning vision for Green Square.

The Green Square vision dictates that shops should be close to residential hubs to cut down on transport needs and create sustainable, energy efficient communities.

In June, the council rejected an application for an ALDI at St Peters because it interfered with Green Square’s proposed supermarket and shops.

A council spokesman rejected the claim there was not enough choice in Waterloo or elsewhere in the local government area.

“There are 41 supermarkets, 36 grocery stories, 14 delicatessens and 16 health food stores already within the City of Sydney local government area, and new applications are received by city planners regularly,’’ he said.

The council has already faced legal action from supermarket developers over its interpretation of the Green Square plan, but the Land and Environment Court has upheld its decisions.