Town growth

For years the vacant land in the heart of Mt Barker’s town centre has been a community talking point.
Since the demolition of the former Herriot Dry Cleaners business fronting Morphett Street there has been much speculation about its future.
Its fate appeared to be sealed with the approval of a $15m shopping centre in 2008.
But the project stalled and for years some of the Hills’ prime real estate has been left as an empty, overgrown eyesore.
What to do with the privately owned site bordered by Morphett, Hutchinson and Stephen streets and backing on to Druids Avenue was a hot topic in the Mt Barker Council’s consultation over the future of the Mt Barker town centre last year.
Many wanted some form of community space, such as a park, incorporated with any major development at the site.
Public spaces are sadly lacking in the town centre, with the nearest park along the linear trail at Mann Street, or across Adelaide Road at Keith Stephenson Park.
Instead what they are likely to get is a $40m three-storey retail complex under plans put forward by the land’s owner, Woolworths.
It is not the outcome many would have liked, but if it is approved it will bring more than 200 new jobs and help cement the town’s standing as the Hills’ regional retail hub.
What ripple effect that will have on existing businesses, particularly those in the main street, remains to be seen.
The historic Gawler Street precinct has been challenged in the past by the arrival of major department store Kmart.
But whether an even larger Big W, with its low cost clothing, homewares, books and electrical items, will bring tougher competition or new opportunities for small business growth are unclear.
One certainty is that the town’s businesses will need to find a point of difference, such as higher levels of customer service or marketing to higher end shoppers, to compete.
They may also win through the new development if it draws local shoppers back to the town centre from centres in Adelaide and the suburbs.
But to do that effectively, the main street must be better linked with that part of the town to allow easy pedestrian access.
The new shopping centre proposal highlights the need for the Mt Barker Council to finish its long-awaited plan for the town centre.
It is difficult for a community to understand whether such a major development – likely to be one of many in the CBD as the town continues to grow – is a good outcome if the future vision for this area has not been finalised.