This article will just focus on the Grima Bros debate that led to the win. I've tried to catch every detail of what was said but apologise in advance if I have missed or misinterpreted something.
Before the debate itself however there were two public addresses — one opposed to the shop and one in support.
He started by saying it was not the intention to close Grima Bros down but that they reduced the store to 500sqm. He said the company believed that the certificate given by the private certifier was invalid because it ignored planning controls. Approval, he said, could undermine confidence in the planning approval system in this area.
He said it was important to maintain the planning approval system for the long-term planning and development of the area for the community. The developers had two primary concerns with the development application. They were:
1. That the planning controls were to ensure that this neighbourhood precinct would be economically viable. He said Dartwest Developments had lodged an application for the Gregory Hills Neighbourhood Centre but that the Grima Bros store at its current size would impact the likelihood of this Centre being developed. He said shops like grocers, butchers, delis and others would be unlikely to be developed if Grima Bros continued trading at its current size. He said it was not a statement made out of fear of competition but it was made because Marist Bros needed confidence to invest $30 million in developing the site that was part of vision that had already been shared with 2000 new residents. He noted that Camden Council had twice refused an application by Aldi for a store of similar size. He urged the Council to maintain a consistent position on this issue.
2. The second concern was that if the councillors voted against the recommendation to refuse the application then it would set a precedent. He said whether you are a business or resident, consistent adherence to the planning controls is fundamental. He said residents needed to know what is happening in their communities and businesses need to know that they can invest confidently knowing that the planning guidelines will be maintained. Grima Bros store he said attempted to justify a 300% departure from the planning control. He said in his 25 years as a town planner, with 14 of those in Camden, he had never seen a non-compliance of this extent supported.
He urged the councillors to maintain a consistent approach to planning controls. By doing this it would maintain the planning framework and allow the Land and Environment Court to determine the validity of the application.
The second speaker who was meant to speak in support of Grima Bros remaining open was a Dr Gary Shiels (Shields?). Unfortunately, he was not available and so Joe Grima was able to step up and replace him.
Joe said he had never spoken before in a public forum to address community-minded people such as the councillors. He said it was very unfortunate that he and his brothers were at the council tonight. He said the three brothers were close and had a dream to open a store that offered high-quality fresh produce, a store that was respected by the community, supported local farms and gave back to the community.
He said they were given the opportunity to live their dream and that they were there tonight to keep that dream alive. He said they were not a multinational company and they were not a threat. He said they were a family business providing price and quality and service "the old-fashioned way".
He said they supported a multicultural society by providing a unique range of products from around the world. Joe said he knew major retailers could open around them and impact their business. He arrived every morning at 4am knowing that he had done everything required by law to open the shop and yet he was here now defending his shop's existence.
He said the community had shown them full support and they "thanked them from the bottom of our hearts". He asked the councillors for the opportunity to give his store chance to live and to consider approving the store even though they were going against recommendations.
His speech was greeted by a huge round of applause and as it died down someone called out "the best shopping in the suburbs". This created further applause. The mayor had to ask the gallery to quiet down a little so the meeting could continue.
Now to the debate around Item 04, itself.
It was a very apparent from the get-go that Grima Bros was likely to get approved.
The recommendation by Council officers had been to decline the store. This meant that for this recommendation to be considered a councillor had to move that recommendation. When the mayor followed meeting procedure and asked for someone to move the recommendation, she was greeted by silence.
The silence was eventually broken by Cr Paul Farrow, who immediately proposed an alternate recommendation to approve Grima Bros. His recommendation was that the Council allow the variation, justifying this through quoting sections of the State Environmental Planning Policies. It was the first time I have ever heard an alternate recommendation get applause from the gallery.
Cr Paul Farrow then spoke to his motion. He said he didn't think anything else needed to be said and proposed moving straight to the vote.
Cr Eva Campbell moved that the motion be put straight to the vote.
After a long pause, the mayor asked if anybody would speak against the motion. If nobody spoke against the motion it could immediately be put to the vote.
Cr Cindy Cagney after some hesitation decided to speak against the motion. However, it was apparent that she was not opposed to the decision but felt that some comment needed to be made in regards to the councillors choosing to go against planning controls.
She said she felt the need to speak for-and-against the motion. Her concern was that this set a precedent and that it sent out a message that the Council would retrospectively approve development applications. She asked if the Council could revisit the planning issues behind the zoning but not in this particular case. Cr Cagney said the intent was to look to the future to tighten up regulations as she was against the concept of retrospective approval of DAs but not against this development.
Cr Eva Campbell then moved again that the motion be put, which meant go straight to the vote.
The mayor then said that before the motion could be put two people had to speak for it and two people speak against it or if no councillor indicated they would speak against it.
Cr Peter Sidgreaves spoke in support of approving Grima Bros. He offered an amendment to alleviate Cr Cagney's concerns, which involved a review of the cap on the floor space restrictions for the Turner Road precinct. The aim was to then make a recommendation to the Minister to repeal or amend the current floorspace restrictions.
This amendment was then added to the previous recommendation. Because this was an amended motion all councillors were allowed to speak again as if this was an entirely new motion.
Cr Sidgreaves said the reason he supported Grima Bros remaining was because they had followed the correct process and had done everything in their power to do the correct thing. He said they had built the business and had significant public support. He felt this would not create a precedent because the situation was unique. He noted that had this development come straight to Council rather than via private certifier it probably would not have been approved.
He said he understood that Dartwest did not want to close down Grima Bros but to reduce the floor space to 500sqm would significantly impact the business. He said Grima Bros had established a successful business that was well supported by the community and that if the community wanted something shouldn't the council supported to.
This was greeted by loud and sustained applause.
Cr Eva Campbell spoke for the amended motion. She started by talking about how Section 94 contributions are taken from developers and used for the planned benefit of a community before a community has been created. She said this process was rigid and quite often, as a result, the community asset planned for by using these contributions ended up producing something the residents didn't really want.
She then noted that 10 years ago when this area was planned it was essentially cow fields and Cumberland Rodeo. The points she wanted to make through this comparison was that the original planning for this area in 2007 meant it was now debatable that what was planned for this area 10 years was in appropriate now. Cr Campbell noted how what was expected in this area did not happen instead, she said, "it went gangbusters".
Cr Campbell then referred to a large debate that took place in the Council when she was first elected over what was defined as a garden centre. At the time she said it earned barristers a lot of money but when you look at that garden centre today it is a classic template of what we now regard as a modern garden centre. Her point was, she said, that it is important to be careful what you call something. “When is a shop shop?” she asked.
She then compared Paul's warehouse to a Paul's shop. They are both selling the same thing. Is it a shop or warehouse, she asked?
“When it comes to size — and size seems to matter to a lot of people, especially blokes (to much laughter) — when is a particular shop a shop and when is it not," she said? In short she felt the argument about the size of the shop did not hold water or have an economic impact in this case. She referred to the way that shopping centres were put together with a large shop surrounded by smaller independent shops and noted that they all did very well.
Cr Campbell said that politicians always say that competition is good and variety is good because it keeps businesses honest and prices low. She noted that Grima Bros was definitely different.
She concluded by saying that the Lions Club has a saying at the beginning of every meeting, "to build your business up there is no need to tear another one down". She said, “if that is good enough for the International Lions then that is good enough for Camden”.
This was greeted by another round of loud applause.
The mayor, Cr Lara Symkowiak then spoke in support of the recommendation to approve Grima Bros. She said the counsellors had to ask themselves why they were there and noted it was through no fault of the Council or Grima Bros. They were there but because of mistake made by private certifier and the court proceedings by Dartwest. Cr Symkowiak said the private certifier issued a complying certificate and therefore Grima Bros was operating with a valid consent.
She noted some people had unfairly questioned the Council for the situation Grima Bros found itself in. Cr Symkowiak explained that by the time it came to the Council's attention they would not have been able to shut down Grima Bros because they would have required a court order to invalidate the compliance certificate.
She described the situation as unique and complex. She said it was a very difficult decision because she understood both sides of the argument. "It is probably the most difficult decision I have had to make in my nine years on council," she said. Cr Symkowiak noted how complex the State Environmental Planning Policy was, which was why they would now be reviewing it.
She said the council was between a rock and a hard place because there were planning rules but here was a business through no fault of their own that it found themselves in a difficult situation. She said Grima Bros was issued an approval to operate and she thought it was unfair that they should be penalised after they had invested their money and put a lot on the line to have the business open and operate.
She said the decision weighed very heavily on her but she asked herself what she would hope for. As a small business owner herself she could not support shutting down Grima Bros. She said it had been a very difficult decision and judging by what other counsellors had said they had also found it difficult.
In conclusion she reiterated that the Council and Grima Bros were there through no fault of their own and that it had been a "perfect storm" of conditions that put them in this position. For this reason she supported the amended recommendation.
Cr Paul Farrow then had his right of reply. He said he echoed everything the mayor had said, noting it was a tough issue. However, he said, "we are elected here by the community to apply some discretion whereas the Council staff have to apply their decisions according to the standards.” He noted that clause 4.6 of the SEPP allowed variations by councillors in appropriate circumstances.
He said the councillors sat in meetings often making variations based on the merits of the proposal. "If I have ever seen a business that requires our discretion to be applied, then it is this one," he said.
The decision to allow Grima Bros to remain open was then passed unanimously. The mayor then allowed a very happy public gallery to leave.