Food vans policy fall out splits Gracetown

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Debate has emerged over whether to allow food trucks to service Gracetown's main beach.
Camera IconDebate has emerged over whether to allow food trucks to service Gracetown's main beach. Credit: Warren Hately/Augusta-Margaret River Times

Gracetown’s normally tight-knit community has undergone a split, with some locals questioning whether its residents group truly represents the township’s wishes.

Tensions have come to a head as a result of the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River’s revised food truck policy, which in its draft form prohibits mobile operators coming into the hamlet’s Cowaramup Bay tourism hotspot.

Emotions were stirred last month when Gracetown-Cowaramup Bay Community president Richard Muirhead made deputations twice before Shire councillors, warning that planning staff were going against the local government’s policies on economic considerations and the wishes of GCBC members by ruling out mobile vendors.

Mr Muirhead said the new policy was geared towards protecting Gracie’s general store’s “monopoly”.

The president said a survey conducted with GCBC members showed a majority of respondents wanted at least a coffee van at Cowaramup Bay during holidays as well as more night-time dining options.

Those claims were hotly refuted before the council by store owner Sandra Bullied, as well as her landlord Ian Englert and employees including Gracetown Kite Festival operator Elizabeth Reed and store worker Eleni Anastasopoulos.

Before the food trucks policy was deferred by the council last month for further investigation around the claims, reports had already aired of spats on social media between rival community members.

It also included vitriol on a private Whatsapp group for the Red Rockers swimming group, emails to the Times, and another anonymous email the Times understands was distributed to councillors and other residents criticising Mr Muirhead.

The debate was around whether Mr Muirhead was fairly representing community views and if his position as GCBC chair remained tenable.

Gracetown residents in support of Gracie’s have since lodged a Freedom of Information request with the Shire demanding to see the survey they claim did not represent community views.

Mr Muirhead this week said he had no intention of stepping down and stood by the survey.

“Apart from a few people . . . pushing for Gracie’s to retain its monopoly on selling coffee and take away food in Gracetown at all times, I am not aware of anybody particularly unhappy with my performance as president of the GCBC,” he said in a statement endorsed by his committee.

The GCBC president said an FOI request wasn’t needed because anyone could ask to see the survey which he told the Times was started in response to a request for GCBC to oppose food trucks on public reserves in Gracetown.

Ms Bullied declined to offer further comment.

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