Controversy Erupts as Woolworths Plans to Enter Castlemaine

In the regional town of Castlemaine, situated in Victoria, it is a rarity for a town of 7,500 residents not to have a Coles or Woolworths supermarket. However, Castlemaine has long been home to just two IGA stores. Currently, a Woolworths supermarket is in the early stages of construction, marking a significant change for the town. The process of bringing a second supermarket brand to Castlemaine has been a protracted and divisive one.

Brendan Blake, the managing director of the “big IGA” in town, known as Castlemaine Maxi IGA, has been a persistent and vocal opponent of any new supermarket competition in Castlemaine for over a decade. He explained, “Running supermarkets and opposing applications for new stores has been a routine part of my business life.” Mr Blake, who also owns supermarkets in Ballarat and Daylesford, openly expresses his desire to prevent major supermarket chains from entering Castlemaine.

Castlemaine does have a smaller, independently owned IGA that is not under Mr. Blake’s ownership. He argues that introducing a supermarket like Woolworths to the town would severely impact small, family-run businesses. To voice his concerns, he has launched a Facebook campaign against the proposed Woolworths store, regularly making controversial claims about the construction site.

One of his claims is that the chosen site is a heavily contaminated former gasworks location, but the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) stated that excavation works are not taking place in the gasworks area. Mr Blake also alleged that construction began in November without a permit, although the developer, Lascorp, maintains that construction did not commence until a permit was issued in December. In response to Mr Blake’s posts, the developer’s lawyers have threatened legal action, accusing him of spreading “misleading and deceptive” information. Despite this, Mr Blake insists he will not remove his posts, as he claims they are supported by data.

The Mount Alexander Shire Council has characterised Mr Blake’s Facebook posts as “misinformation circulating in the community” and confirmed that the developer has not violated any regulations. Some locals have commented on Mr Blake’s posts, expressing dissatisfaction with prices and competition, allegations he refutes by claiming that their products are priced comparably to Coles and Woolworths.

For some residents, like Jamie McDonald, who gets groceries delivered by Woolworths and finds it more affordable than shopping at the local IGA, the arrival of a new supermarket brand is welcomed with the hope of lowering prices and increasing choices for residents.

However, not everyone is in favour of the new supermarket. Joel Carlon, who lives near the development site, believes that a better location could have been chosen, as the current one is expected to cause congestion, particularly during school hours, as it is located near a primary school and the main road into town.

Castlemaine elder Uncle Rick Nelson shares concerns about the new supermarket’s construction but for different reasons. He points out that a block of land bordering the development site holds significant historical value, with an old creek bank used by his ancestors for various activities. Mr. Nelson expressed disappointment that he did not have the opportunity to search for artifacts before construction began.

A spokesperson for Lascorp, the developer, reassured that they had consulted with the EPA and followed all relevant planning processes, emphasising that a town the size of Castlemaine requires a major supermarket. The EPA affirmed that they are regularly inspecting the construction site.

Woolworths also chimed in, highlighting that the new store, expected to open by the end of the year, will create employment opportunities for Castlemaine residents, with approximately 120 ongoing positions available.

Peter Stephens, a Castlemaine resident living near the building site, welcomed the prospect of a new supermarket, especially given the cost of living concerns for many in the region. He expressed contentment with the new development’s proximity to his residence.

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