Raised eyebrows and puzzled expressions are abundant in our town as many struggle to comprehend Moira Shire Council’s proposal to rezone 5500sqm of land outside Cobram’s retail hub.
The proposed rezoning, at the corner of Coglan St and Koonoomoo Rd, from commercial zone two (C2) to commercial zone one (C1) has many concerned it will claw business away from the town centre.
Originally thought to be the site of a new supermarket, the new development was questioned further when Coles confirmed it had no interest in developing a store at the site.
The decision by Coles to reject the proposed development comes at the same time a report by an independent retail consultant stated Cobram had no requirement for any new supermarket floorspace.
In a report presented to the council at a vote on the proposed rezoning, an Essential Economics report found Cobram had 15 per cent more supermarket floorspace than the national average.
‘‘If the new development proceeded in Cobram, the town would have twice the national average in supermarket floorspace at 660sqm per 1000 people,’’ the report said.
‘‘Combined with a 10-year population (2006-2016) growth rate of 0.6 per cent — half the average for regional Victoria — there is no compelling case for any new retail in Cobram.’’
The report also questioned why the council should rezone more C1 land when 30ha of suitable land exists in central Cobram already.
‘‘Cobram has an integrated town centre consistent with strong planning and design principles,’’ the report said.
‘‘With modest population growth and competition from the internet and other destinations, the town centre is potentially vulnerable to trading impacts from excess development.
‘‘No strong economic or community need for additional supermarket floorspace has been identified.
‘‘A substantially more robust and transparent assessment process is appropriate for the current retail proposal.’’
A representative for the owners of the Woolworths supermarket in Cobram, Graeme Watson, said council should request the Planning Minister reject the rezoning request.
‘‘Moira Shire has been misled by the promise of jobs and investment when there was no financial basis to any of this,’’ he said.
‘‘The proposed new centre would create a separate second centre that undermines the town’s current retail heart, leading to two weak centres and no greater interest in Cobram.
‘‘The shire needs to maintain proper long-term planning processes and not risk the prosperity of the town for proposed developments.
‘‘While I respect the council’s decision to present an ‘open for business’ sign to the world, the rezoning will only serve to undermine the retail planning that gives Cobram its central retail character.’’
Mr Watson also said he would welcome new development that complemented the town centre and would boost occupancy in the dozens of vacant shops within the town centre.
Moira Shire chief executive Mark Henderson said the council received a rezoning request and had agreed to start the planning process required, but rezoning required ministerial consent and an independent planning panel.
‘‘Council’s research tells us there is retail drift to larger centres that we’d like to keep in the shire,’’ he said.
‘‘The developer is confident there is commercial interest in the project and has a solid track record of delivering comparable projects in regional locations.
‘‘The rezoning proposal creates the opportunity for retail planning applications to be considered for the site. The project can only proceed with anchor retailers; without that, the land would remain largely undeveloped.
‘‘Zoning has a major influence on property values as it influences the type of development that can occur. Rezoning from C2 to C1 is likely to increase the value of the land when a development occurs.’’