Plans to develop a commercial zone in Katherine East will leave the Town Centre with "a fight on its hands" to survive, and put CBD businesses under renewed pressure according to an expert town planner.
Former Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics senior planner for Katherine Cameron Judson said a plan to develop up to 8000 square metres of retail floorspace in Katherine's east, is "the worst example of planning" he has seen in his 22 year career.
"The proposal runs counter to adopted, evidence based, and internationally accepted planning practice to support vital and viable town centres which underpin businesses and jobs," he said.
The development is part of the broader Katherine East neighbourhood centre development, which is being led by DIPL and is planned for the vacant crown land next to Katherine Research Station.
The development will also include housing, and possibly a new civic centre at a cost of $22 million.
However, Mr Judson claimed the new commercial part of the development will "push investment and spending out of town" by attracting money and businesses to the east side.
He said having two commercial zones in Katherine could cause "significant long term and irreversible damage to the town centre".
He said the current infrastructure in the CBD should be consolidated and supported, as the traditional centre of the community.
"With just a little support, the town centre has the ability to be the focus of investment which can yield significant and sustained dividends for the economy," he said.
"The town centre is the heart of the community, and the economy will come out ahead if the town centre is properly supported."
Mr Judson said he warned DIPL about the potential economic risks which come with the second commercial zone, but said the department recommended the plan go ahead to Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Minister Eva Lawler.
Mr Judson said he questioned department officials, who he claimed were unable to explain why they backed the plan, other than to move commercial land outside the flood zone.
Local businesses worry they will suffer
Mark Tyrrell recently moved to Katherine to set up an Intersport store, and said the town has strong economic potential.
He described plans to develop retail floorspace in Katherine East as "unconventional and nonsensical".
"We have invested in Katherine as we can see the vast potential in this region," he said.
"Development out of town would only stand to dilute the retail offering in the CBD, and if the powers that be really did have the best intentions of the town at heart, they would know that concentrating effort to improve existing infrastructure would ensure a far better outcome."
Matt Bannister, who operates Katherine Camping and Fishing, claimed DIPL had not conducted enough community consultation.
He said prior knowledge of the Katherine East development would have influenced his decision to invest in a property on the town's main street.
"As a reasonably new investor in town I think this whole thing has been kept very quiet," he said
"I definitely did not invest in a business as well as a commercial property on the main street... knowing there would be another commercially zoned town centre constructed a stones throw away."
What should be built instead?
Mr Judson said the land should only have other flood sensitive infrastructure built on it, including housing, schools and health services.
He said any underperformance in Katherine's Town Centre is due to "government neglect and incompetence" not flood risk.
Mr Judson pointed to alternative flood mitigation methods, including building on a podium, which could be utilised to protect current commercial properties in the town centre.
"There is no shortage of commercial land in Katherine, and the choice to build above the flood level on a podium like the new Bunnings at Palmerston, is a relatively inexpensive option," he said.
NT Government stand by their plan
In a statement to the Katherine Times, DIPL said the development will include a mix of medium density housing and public open space, alongside the retail plans.
The department again stressed the importance of moving housing, community and commercial floorspace away from Katherine's flood zone, and said the new neighbourhood centre was recommended by the Katherine Flood Mitigation Advisory Committee report in 2015.
The department claimed the development has been subject to extensive community consultation, and will not damage the future viability of Katherine's original town centre.
"The neighbourhood centre will provide limited retail floor space without undermining the commercial viability of the Katherine town centre, and will support a much larger residential development area that will provide serviced land for population growth over the next 15 years."
In a statement, Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Eva Lawler said the plan will create "private investment opportunities" in Katherine.
Mr Judson said the wording of the Katherine East Area plan states new retail floorspace cannot be developed if it would undermine the viability of the original town centre.
The wording of the plan states:
"A limit on the amount of retail floor space is set to comfortably accommodate near-term demand... without undermining the commercial viability of Katherine town centre."
"This means that anything more than a corner store, like a modest IGA, would not be able to be approved... if good planning practices are adhered to, the plan's 8000 square metres of retail floorspace won't ever come forward," Mr Judson said.
"The plan is contradictory."
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