Planning Minister seeks to break deadlock in Coles and Woolworths supermarket stoush

A supermarket standoff between Coles and Woolworths in Melbourne’s northern suburbs has prompted Victoria’s Planning Minister to intervene to break the deadlock.

Minister Matthew Guy has sided with Ascenzo Industries, the developer behind a Coles-anchored project in Mernda, whose $47 million complex was rejected by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal after an appeal from Woolworths.

The supermarket giant won the VCAT planning battle in May to stop arch-rival Coles from locating a full-line store opposite land it owns at the intersection of Bridge Inn and Plenty roads in the fast-growing suburb on Melbourne’s outskirts.

Woolworths development arm Fabcot Pty Ltd intends to build its own $100 million shopping centre with 80 mixed-use shops, two department stores and two supermarkets, one of which it will occupy, on a Whittlesea Council-approved 25-hectare block designated as Mernda’s town centre under a comprehensive development plan.

But its success at holding its rival at bay may be shortlived with the council – which originally also approved Coles’ proposal – expected to vote next month on Mr Guy’s offer to alter the area’s planning scheme to allow Ascenzo’s development to go ahead.

”Should council wish to seek my assistance on this matter … I would be willing to implement a planning scheme amendment which allows the proposed development,” Mr Guy said in a letter to the council last month.

”t is not good enough to have a single supermarket provider controlling every designated retail site in the growth corridor,” Mr Guy said.

Whittlesea chief executive officer David Turnbull said a decision was imminent. ”At this point, we expect it to be discussed and a decision made on August 5,” he said.

Ascenzo’s James Hunt said work would start on Coles’ store within days if approval was given. ”We’ve got leases in place. We’d commence the day after we get our permit,” he said.

Both sites are now little more than paddocks surrounded by rapidly growing housing estates expected to service a catchment of about 50,000 people when fully developed.

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