Brunswick residents, who have been battling to stop a Bunnings Warehouse from being built in a residential area for nearly two years, have won. The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) rejected the Bunnings proposal outright on April 8.
The development site is surrounded by more than 120 homes, mainly in apartment blocks. With operating hours of 6am to 10pm, and frequent delivery trucks, the development would have had an adverse impact on residents.
The proposed site is on a congested council road, which includes bike lanes and is a popular pedestrian route.
Bunnings Warehouses generate large amounts of traffic, including delivery trucks and trade vehicles. The design failed to incorporate a safe way to safely enter and leave the site on a congested road: vehicles would be propped up over the bike lanes and footpaths creating havoc for pedestrians and cyclists as well as local drivers.
Residents generally do want a say in shaping their community, but they get frustrated with the planning process. Too often, they are stacked in the favour of developers, especially those with deep pockets who can afford expensive barristers. This often leads them to become demoralised.
This victory shows that, with a well-organised campaign, it is possible to win.
There was a community outcry at the initial Bunnings proposal, in August 2020, with 538 residents submitting objections to Moreland City Council in the middle of lockdown.
Nic Maclellan of Brunswick Residents Network noted: “For many months in 2020-21, Moreland Council staff had engaged with the Bunnings developer, without addressing the fundamental flaws of their application – especially around impacts on neighbouring apartments and on traffic congestion.
“It was only after a massive community campaign and hundreds of objections that Council fully came on board, with councillors rejecting the permit application and Moreland hiring a barrister to contribute to the case before VCAT.”
More than 200 residents donated $44,000 to the residents’ VCAT case, with more than 50 residents becoming parties at VCAT.
While the developers engaged a QC for the 12-day long case, residents engaged two experts, and a planning advocate to argue on their behalf. It was money well spent, with the residents’ advocate winning most of the arguments.
The case was significant for several reasons.
Many apartment blocks are now being built in commercial zones and, typically, residents have fewer rights than those in residential zones. The Bunnings developer argued that residents in commercially-zoned properties just had to put up with terrible impacts. VCAT disagreed.
Neil Moreton, who represented many of the residents in an adjoining apartment block noted: “Bunnings wanted to locate the exit lane for its delivery trucks right next to our balconies. The noise would have been horrendous. VCAT agreed with us that this was completely unacceptable”.
Moreland City Council aims to reduce car use and increase walking, cycling and public transport. The Bunnings Warehouse would be a huge backward step. Pedestrian and cycling advocates also participated in the VCAT process.
Faith Hunter from Moreland Bicycle Users Group noted: “We are very happy to see VCAT’s decision affirming that the proposed Bunnings development at Glenlyon Road doesn’t strike the right balance with sustainable development and net community benefit.
“In particular VCAT has recognised the substantial negative impacts on the local transport networks, particularly pedestrian and cyclist networks. These impacts directly affect the ways in which families and others will choose to travel on a daily basis.”
Hunter also noted how the Bunnings development undermined residents’ desires to become more sustainable: “Residents in Moreland engaged in lengthy consultation processes over several years to help Moreland Council develop the Moreland Integrated Transport Strategy. This reflects their interest in and aspirations for increasing opportunities for active transport and mode shift.
“The VCAT decision affirms that developers cannot seek to make profits at the expense of local communities and their transport networks, either as they are now or as they plan for them to be in the future.”
[Andrea Bunting is the president of the Glenlyon Bunnings Action Group.]