WIDGEE WINS: Emotions fly as 50 jobs saved
WIDGEE Engineering has been saved from expected closure by Gympie Regional Council, with councillors voting to let the business stay at the end of a heated and emotional public meeting.
Their decision was met with thunderous applause by more than 100 people, who packed out the gallery, and squeezed onto the landing and into the kitchen to hear the council's decision.
Owner Di Saal fought back tears after the vote as she was congratulated by the assembled crowd, while her husband Pete said that his next step was to "go fishing" now that their fight of more than two years to stay was over.
The vote was not without conditions, though, with Widgee Engineering needing to comply with a number of regulations within the next six months.
However, the regulations are not as strict as expected.
An amended motion was presented by Councillor Hilary Smerdon at the meeting, which addressed a number of points that several councillors felt were too strict.
"The (original) motion... would make this business unviable," Cr Smerdon said.
"This is a viable well-grown business in Widgee... the community support is astronomical."
He noted that the council's own economic survey showed the region would lose more than $7 million dollars from the Gympie economy if the business had to shut, in addition to almost 50 total job losses across the region.
"Aren't these figures relevant?" he said.
He was supported in his motion by several of the other councillors, with Cr Mal Gear admitting he was not comfortable with his choice in October.
"I thought I'd made the right decision... but in my heart it was the wrong one," Cr Mal Gear said.
"This time I've done more homework."
Crs Mark McDonald and Daryl Dodt voted against the amendment, worried they would set a precedent which allowed for businesses to be lax with their compliance.
"Thousands of dollars has been spent (chasing compliance for Widgee), Cr McDonald said.
"Far more than on anybody else.
The location of the business was a huge problem, he said, highlighted by the fact an independent reviewer found it breached more than 20 town planning regulations.
He also did not want to "checkerboard planning" become a Gympie norm.
Speaking in favour of the mended application Mayor Mick Curran said the business' long history at that site could not be ignored.
"If this was a fresh application before council... there would be no way that I could support that," Cr Curran said.
"We can't deny the fact that Widgee Engineering is a major player in the community."
Cr Dodt said that while some councillors may have had differing opinions over the application, all should now move forward with the decision.
The amended motion was passed by a vote of six to two.