Urbanity: A tale of community action

Tecoma community objects to Big Mac development

Occasionally in Australia it still happens that a community gets their collective act together to take on the local authorities over some stupid planning decisions. I have been involved in such an action – the Great Marsden Street Battle.

It also happens that communities take the ‘shocking’ decision to say no to the invasion of one of the big box retailers, or in this case one of the big fast food giants.

The outer Melbourne community of Tecoma was awakened one day in 2011 to the imminent invasion into their picturesque community of Macdonalds.

Macdonalds are skilled at invading any and every community, so it was natural that they should just move into this community. The attitude would have been that this community should have the same fast food that every other community has had to endure. They are about making more money out of selling what they have convinced people to buy. They wish to open an outlet in every area, and simply ask that we all ust ignore all the evidence that makes links between bad eating habits and health and wellbeing.

And so the battle began. Over the last years there were significant chapters to the story, including threats, wins and losses. The battle continues as we enter 2014.

The community raised their voices. The local council listened and heard the level of objections and so the local council rejected the planning proposal. Macdonalds, being a community oriented multinational, took the local government to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The tribunal in their bureaucratic wisdom overturned the decisions deeming the overwhelming objections of the local community as “irrelevant“.  McDonald’s were granted planning permission to proceed.

Please consider that point again: the overwhelming objections of the local community as “irrelevant.

This is exactly the major issue used amongst so many communities when planning decisions are challenged. This is so common in how the residents are treated through the planning processes by ‘their’ own government’s planning authorities. The residents and their views are discounted so easily in the quest for greater urban redevelopment. Or in this case in the quest to give the people what they want. Macdonalds know this as they set up outlets, and people arrive and so the conclusion has to be that their junk food is good.

I am aware of so many cases whereby the local authority will conduct consultation wash but in the end the agenda of the authority, which by coincidence is that of the development and property council, has been the winner. The residents are so often the losers. There are countless stories of residents lives being destroyed through the bureaucratic approaches of planning and development process as overseen by their own governments.

The Tacoma story is a twist on this where the big retailer is the enemy of the local residents and the wider community. The local government initially has more or less backed the residents. The state system that over-rides the local government, favours the developers, or in this case, the multinational junk food retailer. At this point the council dropped the matter despite requests from the residents to make an appeal.

How many times in recent years have we heard governments go on about community values. People trying to migrate and to obtain citizenship are told that they must prove that they will uphold community values. How many times do politicians use ‘community values’ to oppose progressive legislation. Yet when it come to planning and development authorities, community values are irrelevant.

The Tecoma case proves yet again that in the 21st Century we are overdue for planning and development decisions to be based on communities and their views and needs. This does not exclude redevelopment of residential areas. In my local case the community wanted to embrace new developments within this established suburb. It rejected the rubbish proposals being put forward and that were given approval by the local planning and land development agency. Community wishes were ignored. The case was won by the residents through proof that the legislation requirements were not being met, as is so often the case with local redevelopments.

Tecoma wants appropriate progress and relevant developments to happen in their community. It is this international style food outlet that is being rejected. But their view were deemed irrelevant.

Democracy is not part of McDonald’s management style, and it is not built into the planning and development processes. Things must change.

For the full Tecoma story – click here

and here’s a very interesting reaction from a well-known commentator.  On this one Alan Davies seems to have missed the point; the population, about 89%, have their own reasons and that should be good enough.

Then there is this article about the hospitals getting serious about food.


Paul Costigan, 8 January 2014 



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