The West Australian community of Dunsborough is set for a second mass protest against the development of a Puma petrol station in their town centre, in the lead up to a third legal decision relating to the proposal.
Community members and their supporters who oppose the development will join this Saturday on the town foreshore to show their opposition to the development, in the effort to send a message to the state government.
In December last year more than 700 people participated in a ‘mannequin challenge’ to demonstrate against the new Puma service station, which is planned to be built in the main street where there are already two service stations in operation.
A spokesperson for the ‘Puma2go’ community group, local resident Tony Sharp, said the community was not specifically opposed to the development of a Puma petrol station, but rather to the location of the proposal.
“We’re actually quite keen to have them here, we know where there’s a good site,” he said.
“What we don’t have around here is a place where you can wash down boats and trailers, and where we’re proposing is a whole new development area, so a convenience store would work there.”
Mr Sharp said the objective of the protest was to get enough people to participate to attract state and national coverage “so that the parties will actually take us more seriously”.
“It’s really quite astounding: It’s been incredibly easy to get petitions filled, the feeling is unanimous, apart from the developers,” he said.
“This is not some fringe nut group, this is the actual town, and they’re not happy.”
“Puma are trying to use it to roll out their new coffee whatever, and they’re being dumb about it, because if they piss people off, it doesn’t help them.”
The proposal for the Puma development, backed by a group of local landholders who own the site of the proposed service station, has already been rejected by both the Development Appeals Panel and the State Appeal Tribunal.
The matter will go before the State Development Tribunal on February 1, when it will be opposed by the State Solicitor’s Office.
It is understood that the development proposal was rejected on the basis that the town did not require another petrol station in the town centre. Since then the developers, backed by Puma Energy, changed the development proposal to one for a convenience store, despite the fact that the proposal is unchanged from plans for a six vehicle service station.
When asked about the town’s attitude towards the new petrol station if development goes ahead, Mr Sharp said the people of the town would likely boycott the business.
“Everyone says they’ll boycott it, they’re going to be really pissed off and they’ll boycott it. There’s a hell of a lot of ill will here, people are not happy, and it’s not going to go away quickly,” he said.
“The tourists will use it, because they won’t know, but the locals will certainly avoid it.”
A public plea
On January 12 the Puma2go group addressed an open letter to Puma Energy Australia general manager Ray Taylor, expressing their concerns at a lack of communication from the company at corporate level.
“Dear Ray, Why won’t you engage with us?” the letter begins.
“The Community of Dunsborough, Western Australia is extremely unhappy. We have tried contacting you via emails, letters and on your Facebook page. Other than a standard form letter you have ignored our efforts.
“We are trying to tell you we do not want a third petrol station on our main street.
“We appeal to you to heed the wishes of this proud, cohesive community and choose an alternative site that will better accommodate our needs.
“We want you to honour your claims, as stated in a generic email response: ‘…. it’s essential that our people understand our customers’ needs and what influences their buying decisions’ ……. ‘We will continue to listen to the local community, and your concerns regarding this project have been noted’.
“One of the landowners recently said that community opinion is irrelevant. If your company is genuine in its claim to listen to the community, then you will be as offended as we were at his stance. So why have [you] dismissed opportunities to meet or talk with us? Perhaps you are just another multi-national company that puts money making ahead of the wishes and needs of small communities.”
Mr Taylor wrote to Mr Sharp and the Puma2go community group on December 19 last year, stating that he “will continue to listen to the local community, and your concerns regarding this project have been noted”.
“We are committed to delivering a unique service station that suits the needs of pedestrians and motorists alike at the proposed location in Dunsborough,” Mr Taylor said.
“We understand that traffic is a key concern for the local community and limiting congestion is a top priority for Puma Energy. To address this, we have designed a modern site with capacity for six vehicles to fill up at once, which will limit queuing during busy periods.
“Thank you for your request to discuss this with me further, but unfortunately neither a community meeting in Dunsborough or teleconference is possible at this stage. We appreciate your concerns.”
Puma Energy refused an invitation from C&I to discuss the issue, in terms of whether it was a sound business decision to stonewall the local community and press. C&I has also contacted developer Jim Litis, who did not respond to our email.
C&I also spoke to City of Busselton Mayor Grant Henley, who expressed he had limited capacity to comment given his role on the assessment panel that had already twice unanimously rejected the proposal.