Small town near Melbourne, Australia, has fought McDonald's plans for two years
Locals cite environmental, crime concerns over proposed site of new restaurant
McDonald's says it has been "diligent" in addressing concerns of community
It seems that in at least one part of the world, the golden arches have lost a little luster.
The reason lies in a proposal by U.S.-based fast food giant McDonald’s to build a restaurant in Tecoma, a small Australian town in the lush foothills of the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne.
The corporation’s move has sparked a two-year battle with locals, who say they resent the influx of an international restaurant chain and feel that the restaurant will spoil an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Under the banner “No Maccas in Tecoma,” residents of the town of 2,000 have held several protests against the proposed restaurant, such as the one depicted in this iReport in early March, shot by Tim Smith and sent in by resident Kerry Furnell.
Why such anger over one burger joint? The reasons are manifold, says campaigner Garry Muratore.
“For me, personally, I will be living only 400 meters from the proposed development, so the issues were litter and traffic,” he said.
“For young families, it is the fact that it will be built almost opposite a primary school and kindergarten. For the local doctors, it’s about health, while others are concerned it will be only 800 meters from a national park.”
McDonald’s, which says it has kept in regular contact with the local media, community and interested parties over the restaurant plans, has 780 restaurants across Australia, employing about 85,000 people. Amongst the values listed on its website is the promise “we give back to our communities.”
A spokeswoman for McDonald’s said in a statement that it had been “diligent” in addressing concerns of the community, altering the external design of the restaurant to reflect “the aesthetic of the area” and consulting third-party traffic engineers to ensure minimal impact.
Furnell said that the Dandenong Ranges were an iconic place for Australians and that many were “horrified” McDonald’s could think such a development would be appropriate.
She also said increased traffic, vandalism and crime might affect her children.
“The presence of a 24-hour restaurant will mean (an) increase of littering, vandalism and worse and the leaving of items such as used condoms or broken bottles, meaning children are more likely to be injured or harmed in some way,” she said.
For a small campaign, its reach has been extraordinary. Campaigners have been quick to engage in a PR war, harnessing the power of social media, developing a website punningly titled Burger Off to promote their cause and creating a Facebook page with almost 6,000 likes.
More than 75 local volunteers have also pitched in, with one academic spending eight weeks wading through three years worth of local newspapers in the state library to tally up incidents of crime purportedly involving McDonald’s restaurants.
Others have helped with fundraising, developed contacts with similar campaigns across Australia or attended peaceful occupations of the proposed site, where a community garden was built.
In February, protesters held a garden gnome “invasion” of the McDonald’s headquarters in Collingwood, a Melbourne suburb, where hundreds of the garden ornaments were placed on the office steps.
But despite an increasingly fraught battle on both sides, campaigners have stressed that it is the corporation and its franchise holders they have an issue with, not staffers, who they say are just doing their job.
What they are angry about is what they describe as a lack of dialogue.
“(McDonald’s) say they look forward to engaging with us, so we say come and meet, and they won’t return our calls,” Muratore said. “They speak with both sides of their mouth.”
The McDonald’s statement said the company was “proud to contribute to the local community everywhere we operate” through creating jobs, offering training opportunities and providing financial benefits to local businesses and sporting clubs through sponsorships.
“We have absolutely followed established legal processes to ensure that the restaurant is afforded the same rights and privileges as any other business looking to settle in the area,” the spokeswoman said.
It is not the first time such a burger battle has been fought on Australian soil. In 2011, a proposal by McDonald’s to build a fourth restaurant in Port Macquarie, north of Sydney, was rejected by the Land and Environment Court, local media reported.
Residents had argued that the site was in a residential area and was an environmental concern.
In Tecoma, after councilors initially rejected the plan, McDonald’s appealed to a planning court. In September, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal found in favor of McDonald’s, and the Tecoma campaigners say they do not have the funds to take the case to the Supreme Court.
After months of court battles, site occupations, meetings, allegations and counterallegations, the original McDonald’s franchisee backed out of the project this month.
A new one has stepped in, but the small success has emboldened the protesters, who feel that victory in this battle could lead to winning the overall war.
“It’s a case of dollars over democracy, and that’s the heart of any issue that involves communities and large businesses,” Muratore said.
“Our community is not a cookie-cutter suburb; it’s unique. All those on the campaign want the same: We don’t want a multinational fast food outlet.”