MASTERS Home Improvement is a significant step closer to entering the Tamworth market after clearing a major hurdle in its $25 million plans.
At a fiery meeting on Tuesday night, Tamworth councillors voted
5-3 in favour of rezoning parts of Scott Rd and Hilton St to allow for commercial development.
The controversial decision, made before more than 100 people packed into the chamber’s public gallery, paves the way for Masters to seek planning permission for the store.
Councillors were heckled by some in the crowd as debate raged on the emotion-charged matter, with a man at one point shouting “shut up” at mayor Col Murray.
Among the concerns of the 200 objectors who lodged submissions with the council was that the land is flood-prone and the store could create significant traffic problems.
Local solicitor Patrick O’Halloran, representing Scott Rd residents Jack and Barbara York, was one of a raft of people to speak against the rezoning proposal.
He said the council could not, in good conscience, approve the application just four years after the land’s status had been enshrined in the Local Environmental Plan.
Masters senior development manager Tony Pratt was jeered on several occasions as he spoke on the importance of the proposed store on the Tamworth economy.
He said the development would pump $25 million into the economy, create 185 jobs during the construction phase and 150 full-time equivalent retail positions.
Mr Pratt drew the ire of the crowd when he said the Scott Rd block was “the only viable” site for Masters in Tamworth and potential impacts were “benign”.
“Tonight represents an opportunity for ... the reinforcement of Tamworth as the pre-eminent shopping destination for the New England community and it will mean increased competition for this particular retail sector,” he said.
In voting against the staff’s recommendation to approve the rezoning, Cr Mark Rodda said it was an extremely difficult decision and he felt “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”. “I am not at all opposed to Masters,” he said. “I just think it is in the wrong location for the proponent’s proposed development.”
Cr Russell Webb voted in favour of the rezoning, but not before giving the community his word that the development application to follow would be subject to intense scrutiny.
“I feel quite anxious about it, too, and I wonder why someone would choose to build something in that location,” he said.
Cr Tim Coates in his capacity as Tamworth Business Chamber president wrote a letter in support of the rezoning on behalf of his members, only to vote against it on the night.
Resident Leonie Fitzpatrick, the daughter of Mr and Mrs York, told The Leader yesterday that her parents would consider their legal options at a later date.
She said council had set a dangerous precedent by allowing flood-prone land to be rezoned to suit a commercial developer.
“I can understand that there was a lot of pressure exerted on council by a big business entity that basically insisted that if they didn’t approve this then they would walk away,” she said.