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August 1996 . by Bob Holderness-Roddam . printed in the Australian Journal of Adult and Community Education . AUSTRALIA
What do you do when 'Big Mac' wants to Burger up your neighbourhood?
McLibel - A Case Study from Tasmania, Australia
by Bob Holderness-Roddam
This case study is based upon a talk (August 1996) with four people involved in the campaign to prevent McDonald's from building a restaurant on the site of the Granton train park in southern Tasmania. The author was also able to consult a number of documents; including correspondence, minutes of meetings, reports and news clippings. The people interviewed wish to remain anonymous. I thank them for their time and help.
This paper sets the scene, outlines the story chronologically and then analyses the campaign, explaining the significant events and offers some advice for other groups campaigning on local issues.
What do you do when one of the world's biggest fast food chains wants to build a restaurant on a children's playground in your neighbourhood? Here is how Granton residents successfully rebuffed an attempt to erect the Golden Arches on their public open space in 1994.
Granton is a small rural settlement on the northern edge of the Greater Hobart urban area. It is split between two municipalities; the City of Glenorchy which is expanding residential development in its sector and the rural municipality of New Norfolk (now known as the Derwent Valley Council). The main township of New Norfolk is about 19 km. west of Granton, up the River Derwent. The rest of the municipality is comprised of isolated townships. Granton originated as the depot for building the first trans Derwent bridge in the 1800s. The junction of the Lyell Highway (which runs between Hobart and Tasmania's west coast) and Midlands Highway is at the Southern end of the bridge. The focal point for Granton residents is the local memorial hall and the adjacent children's playground, which includes a large red steam engine. The playground is looked after by a local Rotary club. The Brighton municipality, which includes two large broad acres public housing areas, is on the northern end of the bridge.
The Preliminary Skirmish
The proposed take-over of the Granton train park by McDonald's became an issue when a local resident heard about it whilst attending a meeting of the New Norfolk municipal council. Other residents were alerted through a letter-boxed leaflet, which mentioned there would be a meeting of the New Norfolk Council at the Granton Hall on Wednesday 22 June. As a result of this letter-boxing she received many 'phone calls and offers of help from the Granton community.
One local couple wrote to the New Norfolk Council, detailing eight reasons why the proposed development was unsuitable. Their reasons included extensive use of the area by children, a group meeting place, historical site, commuter and school bus rendezvous point, potential for road accidents and decline in property values. Residents also started a petition, mentioned in local newspapers. Papers also carried stories detailing residents' concerns in the week before the scheduled council meeting. During the following weeks several residents had letters published in the local press. Residents held a public meeting to prepare their position for the forthcoming council meeting.
McDonald's did not expect the large number ("well over 100") of local residents to be present at the meeting, "they got a surprise!" It appears that McDonald's had been talking to the Council for three or four years about the proposal. They had detailed plans at the meeting. McDonald's tried to sell their plan for the park by stating they would create 70-80 jobs for New Norfolk. Council's planning consultant, John Hepper, advised the area would have to be re-zoned before McDonald's could develop it.
Residents rejected the proposal and suggested Bridgewater, just across the Derwent River, was more suitable. They felt the Granton area was of significant historical interest, the park was widely used for recreation and there were traffic hazards to be considered. Some residents felt the New Norfolk Council would have agreed to the rezoning at the meeting, if the residents had not opposed the move so strongly.
The Derwent Valley Gazette of 29 June 1994 reported on the meeting, "McDonald's Family Restaurants will push on with a proposal to build an outlet at Granton despite local opposition to the plan." Only one member of the public spoke in favour of the proposed development at the meeting - a resident of Molesworth (a small settlement several kilometres from Granton), "... and I would say a McDonald's building would be more salubrious than the public toilets and this memorial hall which we are in tonight." Mr Oxley also wrote a letter to the press, supporting the McDonald's plan.
The Campaign Takes Off
Following the council meeting locals formed a group, the Granton Residents' Association (GRA), to fight the proposal. They elected several office bearers, including a historian.
A key decision by the meeting was that the main issue was the use of public open space, not McDonald's.
Residents agreed upon the following further action:
The resulting campaign showed that the committee was well advised by two locals with previous lobbying experience. Members took responsibility for various projects. These included:
The next meeting of the GRA was held on July 8.
A resident requested "That the record show that the (then) Chairman of the National Trust of Australia (Tas.) was not aggressive in following up issues such as ours and that we need to enlist help from elsewhere in the organisation ..."
New Norfolk councillors would be the first line of attack because the issue was rezoning. It would be expensive to go to the Planning Tribunal.
A "Save the Granton Green Reserve (Train Park)" sausage sizzle was scheduled for July 24. The aim was to raise funds, get together to discuss the issue and have some fun.
A meeting to consider a strategic plan for the area would be held on 28 July. All local residents would be welcome. McDonald's wrote to the General Manager of the Council on July 10 requesting them to formally consider the proposal and advise if they are prepared to support establishment of a restaurant, subject to conditions. The Acting Director of Planning wrote to the council's general manager on July 12, as follows:
"The Senior Cultural Heritage Officer of the Department has also advised that prior to any decision being made on the rezoning or sale of the land, an archaeological survey of the site will be necessary.
"While the site may be ideal from the point of view of McDonald's, its development could well be in conflict with a number of the objectives of the Act and Council may wish to discuss possible alternative sites with McDonald's"
The GRA's next meeting was on July 14. Proceedings included:
The New Norfolk Council met again on August 3. Business included:
After some debate Council resolved to advise McDonald's that any
application to rezone the property had to consider:
The Derwent Valley Gazette of August 17 reported upon the meeting under the headline, "No firm deal on Mac plan".
As a result of the meeting a resident wrote a detailed letter to the Mayor and councillors, raising 19 points for attention. Mayor Britton replied to the points raised in this letter on 9 August. In closing he stated:
The next GRA meeting was held on August 4. Matters discussed included the following:
About 30 people attended the meeting with Bob Mainwaring M.P. on the following Saturday and showed him around Granton. He changed his mind after visiting the area.
The next GRA meeting was held on August 18. Business included:
Stephen Denehey of Sandy Bay (the Toorak of Hobart, the other side of Hobart from Granton) had a letter published in the Mercury (13 August 1994). He accused the Granton residents of NIMBYitis and equated their campaign with the South Hobart protests against the proposed Mt Wellington Cable Car and the Battery Point residents against Salamanca developments. He felt these people were denying the unemployed jobs. Wendy James, an active member of the Granton committee, replied to this letter in the Mercury of 29 March.
A full page article by historian John Thompson, "Hands off a vital link with the past" appeared in the Sunday Tasmanian on August 21. This gave a detailed history of the convict history of the Granton area.
The GRA held a meeting on September 1. Points discussed included:
The leader of the Tasmanian Greens, Christine Milne MHA, wrote with complete support. She suggested lobbying the State government to prevent sale of the Crown land.
A GRA meeting was held on September 29, but the minutes give very little detail and there do not appear to have been any new developments. Another meeting was scheduled for October 14, but the minutes appear to be missing.
The Hon Peter Hodgman MHA (Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation) replied to a letter from local residents on September 30. The letter read in part:
Victory to the residents
On December 1 McDonald's wrote to the New Norfolk council's General Manager. The opening paragraph stated' "I refer to our many discussions in respect of the above proposal and regret to advise you that we will not be pursuing our interest in establishing a restaurant on the Granton Reserve."
The Public Notices section of the Mercury classifieds for 10 December carried a notice for an application to build a McDonald's in Bridgewater, in the neighbouring Brighton Municipality. The Glenorchy Star newspaper of December 20 carried the headline "Jobs lift likely at McDonald's in Bridgewater" The restaurant was welcomed by the Brighton Council's General Manager and Mayor, who was quoted as saying, "I think even the developers recognise that this is a far superior site to the one which was proposed on the other side of the bridge at Granton".
At any particular time there are many campaigns on environmental and social issues going on around Australia. Why was this campaign successful? I suggest this was due to some luck, good organisation, and hard work!
1. The first bit of luck was having a local resident present at a council meeting when the proposal was discussed. Had this person not been at the meeting, the development may well have been a fait accompli.
2. The need to rezone the area to permit the development. Had McDonald's proposed to develop an area where a restaurant was a permitted use, the battle would have been much more difficult.
3. Changes to the electoral procedures for Tasmanian councils. Until the late 1980s New Norfolk Municipality was sub-divided into five wards. Each ward was represented by three councillors, elected annually on a three yearly rotation. Wards have since been demolished and councillors are now elected by all electors. Had ward elections still been the case, residents would have found it difficult to influence the twelve councillors not elected by them. However, because all electors are now able to vote for (or against!) all councillors, the residents were able to (in theory at least) influence all councillors.
4. Recent changes to land use legislation, the Land Use Planning and Approvals Act 1993, had established clear procedures for rezoning. Clearly the speedy and decisive reaction of the residents was important. This not only warned New Norfolk councillors they had to consider the residents' case, but it gave the dozen or so leaders the energy to continue the fight. Early advice from two people with campaign experience in other issues was clearly a big plus. Instead of riding off in all directions, the residents clearly identified the issue of re-zoning and targeted the New Norfolk councillors as the people who would make the decisions.
It would have been very tempting to get into a slanging match with McDonald's. At best this would have soaked up valuable resources of energy, time and money. At worst it could have resulted in a SLAPP for defamation or similar. A SLAPP is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. The term originated in the USA and SLAPPs are commonly taken out by developers to distract or stop citizen campaigns. McDonalds themselves launched the longest ever libel case against two U.K. activists (Vidal, 1997)
Lessons to be learned
1. Possibly the most important lesson is the need for eternal vigilance. Keep an eye on what your local council is doing. Attend the meetings. Read the minutes and newspaper reports of the meetings. Be particularly inquisitive when planning and rezoning of land is being considered. You should also make the effort to read the tenders and the public notices sections of the newspapers in your district. The tenders section may well give early warning of projects when consultants are invited to tender.
2. Take the time to analyse the issue and determine your desired outcomes. Get as much relevant information as possible. In this case the zoning of the area was critical.
3. Seek advice from people who have been involved in other issues. They do not need to be the same as your specific issue - the general principles are similar. Try local environment groups or ratepayers' associations for starters.
4. Stick to the issue - play the ball not the person. The GRA recognised the threat of any development was the issue, not just McDonald's. This will help to focus your energy and avoid the threat of legal action (SLAPPs).
5. Identify the correct target(s) and lobby them hard. Also find out who influences the target(s); both formally and informally. In this case the primary targets were the New Norfolk councillors, as they could have rezoned the area to allow the development. Those who may have influenced the councillors include staff, planning consultants, Granton residents, New Norfolk businesses and McDonald's.
6. Remember the three Ps - Passion, Planning and Persistence. The GRA was quite fortunate that the issue was resolved in only a few months. Some issues can take years to resolve.
7. Demonstrate widespread support in your community. This was done by turning up at meetings, writing letters and the petition. The petition was particularly well organised. Every potential signatory was identified and approached in person.
8. Use the media, but realise the media have their own agenda - maximising readers, listeners and viewers. The media relies upon advertising for their revenue. If they can demonstrate a large audience they have a better chance of attracting the advertising dollar.
Derwent Valley Gazette, issues dated:
NB A hard copy of this article was published in the Australian Journal of Adult and Community Education, Vol 37, No 3, November 1997 pp. 171