Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

ALDI Supermarket Proposal, Turramurra

Alister speaking at the Community Meeting

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) [1.14 p.m.]: Last year my office received word of a hastily convened public meeting, notified to residents through an announcement in a local paper posted just days before it was to happen. Based on the short notice for people to attend the late afternoon meeting, it seemed the convenors of the meeting, ALDI, were hoping that few people would turn up. But ALDI was wrong. Hundreds flocked to a community hall at West Pymble that Monday afternoon—as the upper North Shore bush telegraph had kicked into action over the weekend before, warning that ALDI proposed to move into the iconic petrol station and Parker's nursery sites near the corner of Eastern Road and Tennyson Avenue in Turramurra.

I do not know whether ALDI had banked on the public backlash its proposal would create, or in fact whether it knew exactly the level of public anger that it would spark, and hence the short notice and awkward timing of the meeting at 5.30 p.m. on 7 September 2015. But people turned up in their hundreds, so much so that people were forced to line up outside the venue. I had a conflicting parliamentary engagement, but a member of my staff attended the meeting and reported back to me on it. ALDI's intentions became clear: it wanted to build one of its supermarkets on and around the Parker's nursery site.

The message from the public also become clear: they did not want it to happen. I joined them in that sentiment not because I did not want ALDI in Turramurra but because I knew an ALDI supermarket was not right for that location. I know that area well—its people, its character and, importantly, its traffic issues—having bought my first home in Sydney with my wife in nearby Gilroy Road some 20 years earlier. My kids also went to long day care at the Beehive Preschool and Childcare Centre in Tennyson Avenue across from the proposed site.

We have been told by city planners that we must have more development in our area around the railway corridors as all parts of Sydney are called upon to share the load of population increase. But moving away from the site of a would-be vibrant town centre around Turramurra railway station to plant a large supermarket in a compact residential zone is not a palatable option. Retailers like ALDI need to be situated in and around railway stations and not in residential areas such as Eastern Road. I know ALDI's business model is different to that of the other major retailers, and that point of difference is working successfully. But making part of that difference a blitz on residential streets and thus burdening their traffic flows and amenity is not acceptable.

With that in mind, I sought urgent advice from the Minister for Planning and I arranged an urgent meeting with the mayor of Ku-ring-gai Council. It was confirmed that the nursery and petrol station on Eastern Road are currently zoned R2, which is low density residential zoning. The petrol station and nursery have existing use rights to operate their businesses, even though their current zoning is for low density buildings. A new owner would only be able to operate businesses of a similar kind or build new low density residential housing on that land unless it is rezoned.

ALDI sought just that: a re-zoning to a B1 neighbour centre. This is the same zoning as the current strip of shops on Eastern Road, containing the butcher, the IGA Supermarket, the chemist, the fruit shop, the liquor store, the coffee shop and the drycleaner. The Eastern Road Community Action Group was formed. I asked that local residents action group, in conjunction with small business owners, to get their supporters to write to the Ku-ring-gai councillors. Some of the councillors were not happy that I did that. However, by reason of the lack of merit of the project, the Ku-ring-gai Council voted unanimously against the ALDI proposal. That was not to be the end of the matter as ALDI sought a review of its gateway rezoning through the Department of Planning.

I am happy to report that the Department of Planning and Environment has decided that the ALDI development will not be allowed on the proposed site. The department has assessed the proposal and found it not to have strategic merit as it is inconsistent with State and local planning objectives, including "A plan for growing Sydney", which is the blueprint for Sydney's planning future. This is the correct decision. The proposed ALDI supermarket on Eastern Road was inconsistent with the plan for development in our area, which would put developments of this kind in town centres near the railway line. It was with great pleasure that on Saturday 19 March I joined Brett Rogers, the committee from the Save Eastern Road Shops group and members of the local community for a community celebration. The community celebrated with food provided by local butcher Allan Waldon, the IGA supermarket and the fruit store.