FOR the first time, supporters of the Mullumbimby Woolworths development have publicly united, facing off against demonstrators during a Land and Environment Court site inspection yesterday.
About 40 people, mainly supermarket workers, carried placards reading 'save our jobs' and 'Woolies = jobs = security', challenging an anti-Woolies group of roughly equal size.
The protest was organised by staff at Mallams supermarket, who said they had kept quiet for long enough.
All have been promised a transfer to Woolworths supermarket when it eventually opens, but there are fears further delays to the development process may jeopardise their job security.
“We've been letting it go and letting it go, but now we're angry,” long-term Mallams employee and mother-of three Leisa Arthur said.
“They (anti-Woolies protesters) don't realise how many people they are impacting on. There are more than 100 people who rely on this organisation for their weekly wages.”
Ms Arthur said Mallams was likely to close in September next year and staff would be left in the lurch if Woolworths was not yet open.
“I don't know about anyone else, but I can't afford for that to happen,” she said.
The presence of the pro-Woolies group surprised the anti-Woolies crowd, who have had a highly visible, long-running campaign.
There was some verbal sparring between the groups, but the protest remained peaceful.
The gathering of both groups was timed to coincide with a visit to the proposed Station St Woolworths site by legal teams and the commissioner of the Land and Environment Court, who will preside over a hearing in Ballina this week.
Woolworths are appealing Byron Shire Council's decision in July to refuse its on-site sewage management system. Protesters maintain the site is unsuitable for the system and could pose a risk to public health.
If the council's decision is upheld by the court, construction of the supermarket will be delayed at least until the Mullumbimby sewerage upgrade is complete, which is currently expected by the end of 2010.DOES MULLUM NEED A WOOLIES? Phone 6624 3266 or SMS 0428 264 948