Council gives in on town’s BP service station fight
Councillors who rebelled against a proposed BP petrol station and cafe on Bussell Highway in Cowaramup have acknowledged defeat and approved the contentious development.
Augusta veteran Cr Mike Smart led the decision at Wednesday night’s council meeting, taking responsibility for the previous refusal, saying members had “exhausted” all options to fight the development.
“I feel for the community of Cowaramup that weren’t happy with that happening and will have to drive past it while it’s there for the full life of the subdivision,” he said.
“The reality is, once that’s zoned commercial, we don’t have capacity (to refuse it).”
Responding to outcry in Cowaramup and about 300 submissions against the development — formerly planned as a 24-hour outlet — five of seven councillors rejected the approval earlier this year and were toasted by residents.
However, as Cr Kim Hastie explained, 10 minutes with the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s outside legal expert eliminated any hope the matter would be upheld by the State Administration Tribunal.
“We were seriously of the view we were doing it for good planning reasons,” Cr Hastie said.
“It was just wiped off the table in the first 10 minutes.”
The Shire engaged several consultants to bolster their defence at the SAT, but the experts undermined the councillors’ position, finding the planning aspects conformed with requirements.
Cr Pam Townshend said councillors quickly learnt a planned social impact report “was not going to be admissible” at the SAT.
“Everything’s weighted in favour of developing things,” she said.
Shire president Ian Earl and deputy president Kylie Kennaugh previously voted for the development and on Wednesday night reiterated how they saw the writing on the wall from day one.
Acknowledging his role as a previous landowner who had no involvement in the contentious relocation of the commercial zoning from the other side of the highway that was never formally put to residents, which occurred before his time on the council, Cr Earl said the refusal “never had a hope . . . of getting up”.
Cr Peter Lane said the SAT outcome had merits because of the extensive conditions put on the proposal, and developers Michael Stewart and Gino Vespoli were open to further changes during negotiations. Although not happy with the outcome, the councillor said “under the circumstances the outcome was really good”.
Cowaramup residents reacted badly to the news, though some said saving ratepayers up to $100,000 in costs and the risk of damages against the local government was the only sensible move.