14 December 2022
After years of speculation, delays and arbitration, a controversial proposal for a third supermarket to be built at the eastern entrance to Castlemaine has been given the green light.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has now given the developer, Lascorp Investment Group Pty Ltd, a permit to build a 3,300 plus square metre supermarket at the Urquhart and Forest Street intersection.
Size Matters, the community objector group that argued against the proposal on urban planning grounds, is now calling on the developer to “do the right thing” and start constructionb immediately.
Spokesperson for the group, Kaye Swanton said Castlemaine residents will face unprecedented traffic congestion during construction of the supermarket, which could take up to five years to complete.
“Once built, traffic movement through the Forest and Urquhart Street intersection, and further west to the Hargraves and Forest Street intersection, will cause significant traffic congestion in a small regional township such as Castlemaine,” Ms Swanton said.
“While we recognise that many residents will welcome this decision, we also remain concerned about how such a large supermarket will impact on smaller, locally owned businesses in the core of the Castlemaine CBD.
“We’ve seen examples of these big stores knocking out whole local retail strips in regional areas.”
Ms Swanton said Size Matters did everything it could to ensure the best possible outcome for residents.
“The group, and other resident respondents who appeared at the VCAT hearing, argued for a more viable stormwater management plan, preservation of existing trees, enhanced building design and landscaping features and easier traffic flow through the designated carparking area. Concerns about these elements have been somewhat addressed through the conditions placed on the development,” she said.
“Size Matters welcomes the 73 conditions VCAT has imposed on the development. In particular, the requirement that the original architect and landscape architect be retained during the construction phase of the development to ensure what was presented in the planning is what is delivered to the community, and maintained over time.
“Without this condition, the risk is that any landscaping will fall short of planned expectations, as is too often common for similar developments, and over time becomes neglected and fills with dead plants, weeds and litter”.
In April 2018, Mount Alexander Shire Council granted the applicant, Lascorp Development Group Pty Ltd (now Lascorp Investment Group Pty Ltd) a permit to build a 1,500 square metre supermarket on the site. At the time, it was hoped the smaller supermarket would be an Aldi.
The land was rezoned to accommodate the application, and the permit granted, enabling the developer to commence construction. However, the developer instead applied for an amendment to the permit to more than double the size of the original proposal.
When this was refused, the applicant lodged a whole new application for the larger full-line supermarket, which attracted 178 objections from residents. The Council knocked back the planning approval for the larger proposal in August 2021 and the applicant took the matter to VCAT.
Size Matters members were among the 11 resident objector respondents who took part in the 16-day VCAT hearing into the matter, which reflected the complexity of the proposal, the number of parties involved, and the 3,998 pages of submissions and expert witness statements tendered.
In 2018 Council approved a 1,500 square metre supermarket near the corner of Forest and Urquhart Streets, Castlemaine.
In 2020 the developer, Lascorp Development Group, applied for an amendment to the 2018 permit comprising a full line supermarket, specialty retail and licensed liquor premises.
At approximately 3,800 square metres, the new proposal is more than double the size of the original permit and represents one of the largest projects in the Mount Alexander Shire, shaping the character of Castlemaine for decades to come.
A group of residents, concerned about the location and size of the development, formed an action group called Size Matters.
In April 2021, Lascorp lodged an application with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to approve the revised development, citing the failure by Council to grant the permit within the prescribed time.
By lodging an application with VCAT, the developer effectively by-passed Council’s role in the process.
Council And Community Concerns
A key concern of Council has been the soil contamination of the site.
Groundwater leaching analysis shows abnormally high levels of arsenic, copper, lead, zinc and mercury. These contaminant plumes are migrating southward from the site towards the nearby Forest Creek. The site continues to have serious category A toxicity yet the developer has taken no remedial action and continues to ignore the impact of this on the Creek and the nearby primary school opposite the site.
Beyond significant soil contamination, which originated from the site’s former gas works, the Size Matters group is concerned about the traffic issues that the proposed development would create along Forest and Duke Streets. Other issues of concern are the visual impact of a large-scale supermarket on the gateway to the heritage township and economic impacts on locally-owned and operated food retail outlets.
A super-sized supermarket complex with extensive car parking at the gateway to Castlemaine’s CBD is inconsistent with the character of the central business district. It fails to align growth with the identity of the township and would detract from the town centre’s value as a destination for tourists and visitors. In addition, under the proposal Urquhart Street South would be used for construction of a car park, despite the objections of Council and inadequate community consultation concerning changes to ownership and use of public land.