No United front

Published on the front page of the Warrandyte Diary, November 2013

Warrandyte residents have voiced strong opposition to a proposed petrol station and fast food chain at United Petroleum’s site on Yarra St, after construction work was carried out and petrol sold at the site in the last week of September.

It is alleged the construction work and sale of fuel was carried out without a permit and has possibly breached local planning laws.

Last month the Diary reported how Deirdre Smart overheard construction work being carried out at the site at night on September 26. Over the next couple of days, construction workers installed a sign and pumps were installed and a truck attempted to deliver fuel at the site but was unsuccessful and caused Yarra St traffic to come to a halt.

A station attendant sold fuel to customers over Grand Final Weekend before stopping due to orders from a Council representative on the Monday.

Rob Nabben’s house is adjacent to the site and says the works undertaken in the last week of September were “irresponsible” given that Warrandyte is a designated high risk bushfire zone, with several homes surrounding the site.

He suspects that because works were allegedly carried out without a permit and the service station attendant was selling petrol outside with the cash register on a wheelie bin, United didn’t comply with required fire safety procedures.

“There would be loads of procedures regarding what is and isn’t legal when running a petrol station because it’s toxic and highly volatile. What if an accident happened and all the residents paid the consequences? If you’re running big facility then you’re taking responsibility for people’s safety and you can’t just run it like a pack of cowboys,” Mr Nabben said.

Several residents believe that by selling fuel on Grand Final weekend, United was trying to evoke the Existing Use Rights Act. The Act states if a site is in continual use as a petrol station and fuel has been sold at the site in the last two years, then that could act as a permit for United to develop and use the site.

It’s believed that before that weekend, fuel hadn’t been sold at the site since 2005.

Mr Nabben said this, along with the fact that the tanker delivering petrol on Friday September 27 was unable to reverse into the site, led him to believe the petrol sold that weekend “was old fuel”.

United Petroleum has not responded to repeated calls from the Diary for comment.

The Diary understands lawyers representing United have been in contact with Council and that the company intends to pursue its application to use and develop its land at 44-46 Yarra St for a service station and fast food chain outlet.

Manningham Council is currently assessing United Petroleum’s application.

In a letter written to Manningham’s CEO Joe Carbone in October, Warrandyte Community Association president Dick Davies called on Council to “respond with the full force of Council’s authority and resources … to ensure that this application does not gain a planning benefit as a result of deliberately flouting planning law and the rights of others.”

However, in a statement provided to the Diary, Acting Chief Executive Officer Rob Spargo said: “Council has not issued a fine with respect to the allegations, as the sales ceased when the operator was requested to do so.”

When asked about the conclusions of Council’s investigation into the alleged breach of local planning laws, Mr Spargo said: “Council’s investigation identified a number of matters that may require planning permission.”

“At this time council are not satisfied that an ‘existing use right’ exists on the land to use the land for a service station,” he said.

Last month Warrandyte Community Association committee member David Ellis told the Diary he believed United’s actions appeared to be an attempt to steal a march on a potential competitor, as a separate application for a petrol station near the roundabout at Harris Gully Rd had been lodged around the same time.

Resident Christine Nicholl said it would be “grossly unfair” if United was given a warning and no sanctions.

“After what has occurred we can’t help but wonder what else United is capable of. It just seemed very sneaky to do it on Grand Final Day when people were out and doing other things. I don’t trust United to uphold Council law in the future, that’s for sure,” she said.

Resident Petra Young said while she isn’t opposed to a petrol station in Warrandyte, she believes United’s site “isn’t an appropriate location”.

“It’s too residential and if more cars are pulling in and out of the petrol station, which is right on the corner of a blind spot, there will be more accidents,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brackenbury St resident Hanh Truong said the proposed development would be an eyesore. She is also concerned about the safety of the increasing number of children who would cross the road near the blind spot to buy food from the proposed fast food store.

Jock Macneish said a small meeting took place on November 1 between WCA representatives, interested parties and the architect of the proposed service station off Harris Gully Rd. They discussed ideas and issues associated with the alternative proposal and it’s believed residents will be consulted in coming months.

Did you purchase fuel from the United petrol station in Warrandyte on Grand Final weekend? Let the Diary know by emailing or calling 9844 0555.

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Brianna Piazza

Journalist and travel writer.

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