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There was no doubting the partisan nature of the standing-room-only crowd which gathered at Leichhardt Town Hall on December 15 to hear the Joint Regional Planning Panel deliberate on the Annandale Woolworths proposal. The huge roar which erupted when panel chair John Roseth declared the panel’s unanimous decision to reject the development was testament to that. But it was a decision which did not come as a surprise, even for the applicants themselves – having seen the writing on the wall prior to the meeting, applicant representative Geoff Bonus had pleaded not for approval, but simply a deferral of the final decision.

In the end, it wasn’t enough, with the panel concluding the problems with the existing proposal were so severe a fresh DA would be the simplest solution for all concerned. Amongst the problems cited by Mr Roseth in his decision were “unsatisfactory arrangements” for servicing the site, with a strong likelihood of creating lengthy tailbacks on Parramatta Road, and internal arrangements which failed to comply with Australian Standards.

The rejection met with the approval of Balmain state MP Verity Firth, who said she was, “utterly, completely and implacably opposed” to the development. “In Annandale, we have the existence of retail strips which are both sustainable and a part of the area’s heritage, and I don’t want to see that lost from yet another inner-west suburb,” she said.

Spokesperson for the Save Annandale Village group, Hugh Scott, said the decision sent a clear message that money was not the determining factor in such developments. “I think it shows iron-clad stupidity on Woolworths’ part, that they think they can determine what a heritage suburb looks like,” he said. “There’s been zero consultation from the applicant – they haven’t reached out at all to the community. The only consultation process has been through Council.”

Annandale IGA proprietor Sam Abouchrouche had much riding on the decision. Working long hours and also trying to take an active role in the campaign had proved “challenging” – but he said the end result was more than worth it. “It’s good to see the local community come together to protect local businesses,” he said.

Woolworths’ Community Relations Manager, Simon Berger, was scheduled to speak at the meeting, but a last-minute family engagement prevented his attendance. In a subsequent statement, he said Woolworths would consider its options once the applicants (David and Gwen King, also owners of the King Furniture store opposite) had done so. “We respect the process and understand there is some community opposition, although it should be noted the vast majority of the 25,000 residents in the catchment area were not involved in the anti-Woolworths protest,” he said. “We still believe a convenient local supermarket on an otherwise run-down section of Parramatta Road would have a number of benefits, including convenience for the many local residents who currently drive outside their suburb for their grocery shopping, along with hundreds of new jobs.”