Wollongong factory outlet debate leads nowhere

The eight-year Wollongong City Council saga over a rezoning proposal to allow a large retail precinct to be built on industrial land at Kembla Grange is set to drag on, with developers pledging to push ahead despite a lack of support.

The controversial proposal got nowhere at Monday night’s meeting, despite councillors engaging in more than 1 hours of complex, and at times heated, debate.

After mixed views and four separate motions, they narrowly agreed to maintain the status quo for the 18 hectares of land, voting simply to ‘‘note a report’’ on the matter.

However, Leda Holdings’  development manager Gemma Wawn said this wouldn’t change the Sydney property giant’s  plans to alter the Wyllie Road site’s ‘‘light industrial zone’’ to make way for a $110million factory outlet and homewares complex.

‘‘We are going to lodge a new planning proposal to allow additional permitted uses, and we hope to do that in the next few weeks,’’ she said.

This week marked the fourth time that councillors had considered the rezoning plan, after voting it down twice in 2012.

Most remained unchanged in their stance.

In a report to the meeting, staff found changing the zone was not in the wider public interest because  it would deplete the supply of strategically important industrial land and affect jobs in existing retail centres.

Ann Martin,  who has long been against ‘‘throwing out all of our planning legislation’’ to support the development, said councillors should simply accept the report by staff and leave the  site’s  zoning alone.

However, Bede  Crasnich said the staff’s   findings were flawed and moved that councillors develop a rezoning plan to  pave the way for the factory outlet.

Similar motions were put up by Vicki Curran and Janice Kershaw, with Cr Kershaw saying she supported the plan but believed developers – not the council – should pay for any further planning to get it under way.

David Brown labelled all these plans ‘‘decision-making chaos’’ and Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the factory outlet was ‘‘a Trojan horse’’ that would create ‘‘retail graveyards’’ in other areas of the city.

For some, listening to rehashed arguments proved too much, with Greens councillor George Takacs saying he was ‘‘bored, bored, bored, bored, bored’’ and Jill Merrin labelling the meeting ‘‘groundhog day’’.

In the end, councillors’ votes were tied at 6-6 on Cr Martin’s motion, meaning the Lord Mayor used his casting vote to maintain the site’s existing zone.

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