rebellion on main street

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Business operators Joanne Paris, Lyndon Egberts and Gary Bennett protesting the main street closure earlier this year.
Camera IconBusiness operators Joanne Paris, Lyndon Egberts and Gary Bennett protesting the main street closure earlier this year. Credit: Warren Hately Picture:

A loose coalition of traders frustrated with the Margaret River main street redevelopment and lack of Shire support is calling on businesses to withhold rates this financial year.

The group, which includes businesses which did not want to be named, is led by Jahroc Galleries owner Gary Bennett, whose letter to the Times this week outlines traders’ main concerns.

“I’m not really a council basher because I know how hard it is to run a business, let alone a town, but I’m afraid the gloves must come off over the debacle our main street has become,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem fair to lay the delay costs at the feet of shop owners without having some sort of compensation plan to help us survive the interruption,” he said.

Mr Bennett said he had tried JUto reach a reasonable outcome through the Shire of Augusta-Margaret River, but a lack of interest in helping ratepayer businesses triggered his call.

“All aggrieved main street businesses should band together and not pay their Shire rates this year,” he said.

Former councillor and landlord Neville Veitch was involved with the group, but declined to back the withholding call, while Margaret River Chamber of Commerce president Melissa d’Ath also voiced frustrations – but hoped Shire offers to help businesses would make a difference. “I, along with a lot of main street traders, am concerned with the lack of contingency plans if the works are not finished by December 18,” JUshe said.

“There seems to be a lack of understanding from some individuals that the season is better, so we, the traders, shouldn’t complain.

“COVID-19 travel restrictions may have brought us more visitors, but the fast-tracking of the project has seriously impacted on these visitors’ experience and the ability for traders to maximise benefit.”

Other businesses gave the Times an insight into the stress and financial desperation on the main street.

Shire president Ian Earl said he had warned of the difficulties of the redevelopment and many were doing it tough across the shire.

“It was never going to be easy and there would never be a right time,” he said.

“We did have a discussion with some of the traders and their representatives recently and the outcome was that we would not be paying any compensation, and that is supported by all councillors.

“If main street traders are unable to pay their rates then they can apply to the Shire for a payment plan to help them through this tough period. They will be treated very sympathetically.”

Cr Earl said ongoing consultation with traders, the Local Is More campaign, the main street promotional short film, post-completion marketing, and “very significant funding” through the council’s hardship policy were all in place to support the local economy.

He also stressed uncertainty created by COVID-19, and early, now resolved problems with the redevelopment added to the challenge.

Cr Earl urged everyone to work together to support completion of roadworks by Christmas, with the benefits from the redevelopment to last the next 30 years.

Mr Bennett said 17 main street shops were now empty, and “we will have more if the main street mess isn’t cleared up pronto”.

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