Letters to the Editor: Merimbula's retail situation

Reframe the debate

After 30 years living away from my home town of Merimbula I was delighted to return for good early last year.

The splendour of our natural environment remains unchanged, but it was obvious the shimmer of Merimbula's CBD has tarnished since the heyday of the 70s and 80s. I wanted to change that.

I was elected president of the Merimbula Chamber of Commerce 10 months ago and since then I have built strong community and business relationships, created trust and delivered on promises.

So it was disappointing to read Merimbula News Weekly's front page last week "Merimbula main street woes; businesses claim high rents". Not only did it present just one perspective, but it fed a pervasive negative view of this town, and Chamber was not approached for comment.

Meanwhile, tackling some of the bigger issues is going on behind the scenes here and across the shire, which makes me feel very positive about the future, especially in Merimbula. We have to work strategically for positive change; success won't just fall into our laps. The high rent argument is legitimate but can't be the scapegoat for overall reform.

Collaboration is key to delivering the outcomes we need. For instance, Chamber and Merimbula Tourism joined the Merimbula Jazz Festival Committee to create a revamped Festival, Streetfest and Lantern Parade, with many businesses reporting their best trading days in months or years.

Merimbula Chamber, along with Pambula Business Chamber, Deputy Mayor Mitchell Nadin, local council, state and federal government, raised over $110k for the new Merimbula Visitor Information Centre. Collaboration will allow us to deliver a bright and festive town for Christmas and NYE. All this takes a huge amount of work with a small unpaid executive.

What bothers me most though is our toxic culture of negativity. We must reframe the debate and change the language used to describe the town. We must collaborate to build confidence in relationships, not tear them apart. Businesses should support the Chamber in its work supporting them. We must accept the economic realities that face us and embrace new thinking and new ways of doing business to make our beautiful and unique town thrive.

Lynn McColl, President, Merimbula Chamber of Commerce

What council needs to do

Merimbula is in trouble mainly because of decisions made by Bega Valley Shire Council.

It started when the Council approved the Woolworths development at Tura despite a warning from its own retail consultants that it would have an "intolerable" effect on Merimbula. The Council went ahead. The consultants were right. Tura people stopped shopping in Merimbula and ever since the Merimbula CBD has struggled.

It didn't end there. Other Council decisions made things worse.

The Council sold one car park to Aldi and built roads across another. There is now less public car parking in Merimbula than there was in the 1980s.

Council closed the Merimbula library and its Merimbula office. It allowed businesses to buy houses in Merimbula Drive with the result that workers who would otherwise be in the Merimbula CBD are not there.

It helped make Bega the regional centre, resulting in most of the district's public servants and the hospital being located there.

Its Development Control Plan makes it impossible for commercial property owners to replace their ageing properties. It fails to address Merimbula's most important planning issue, which is how an attractive lake foreshore can be created in the CBD.

But planning issues are only part of the problem. The fact is the Council favours Bega. It spent millions of dollars on its own premises. By contrast, Merimbula got nothing.

Every year its wages bill pumps millions of dollars into the Bega economy, creating jobs and supporting retailers.

On the other hand, it is reluctant to support Merimbula's tourism industry and begrudged spending as little as $25,000 relocating the Merimbula Visitor Information Centre.

What is needed is for the Council to

  • put staff in Merimbula,
  • return the library,
  • improve the lake frontage,
  • replace the lost car parking,
  • update the Development Control Plan,
  • remove the ugly poles and cables,
  • replace the truly dreadful toilets in the Palmer car park and
  • support tourism with guaranteed annual funding.

When all that happens, the town will get going again.

Robert Green