Guildford businessman Michael Noonan in his office.

Poste Café owners explain their decision to close

City of Swan says they want local businesses to thrive, but are obligated to make sure businesses comply with planning law.
June 6, 2024
Anita McInnes

THE owners of the Poste Café and Garden Centre say negativity towards their business by the Guildford Association and the City of Swan contributed towards their decision to close.

After Michael Noonan and his wife Kim closed the café and garden centre in February he said  they had been alarmed to witness the fate of those attempting to restore the Guildford Hotel, another historic landmark in the vicinity, and another business attempting to breathe new life into the heritage precinct of Guildford reported in Review of JDAP decision sought in Supreme Court (Echo News, February 9).

“We understand that this project is now in the hands of the lawyers, following a Supreme Court challenge backed, we hear, by some of the same forces that have made it difficult for us,’’ he said.

“We could not begin to contemplate withstanding a challenge like that if it were to be visited on us.’’

He contacted Echo News saying he wanted to outline to the city’s residents their experience and also called for the city to respond to some unanswered questions.

Mr Noonan said last year they received a letter saying it had been brought to the attention of the city that the seating arrangements of the café were in excess of the approved plan.

They were requested to remove all but 32 chairs in the café.

The letter said they were legally obliged to comply and the unlawful use of the land was a breach of the city’s planning and they were informed the maximum penalty for a breach of this section was a $1 million fine plus  $125,000 for each day.

Within two days they received another letter from the city withdrawing that non-compliance notice.

City of Swan chief executive officer Stephen Cain said in February 2023, city staff issued a letter to the owners of Poste Café expressing concern about potential non-compliance with the existing café approval.

“That letter was withdrawn after a review of the circumstances found it should not have been issued,’’ he said.

Not getting a response from Mr Cain after he wrote to the city in late January this year advising they were closing their business was another question Mr Noonan wanted answered.

A city spokesman said after email inquiries on planning-related matters, Mr Cain met with Mr Noonan in July 2023 and advised him of the reasons why a formal application was required.

“Several requests for extension of the timeframe to submit an application were also approved by the CEO,’’ he said.

“A letter from the owners, received in February, advised they were closing their business and did not set out any issues that required a further response from the city.”

Mr Noonan also had questions about the declarations councillors, who are members of the Guildford Association, have to make when the council is voting on development applications to which the Guildford Association had made a negative response.

Mr Cain said in accordance with regulations, council members were required to disclose an interest that could affect or could be perceived to affect their impartiality on a matter, such as kinship, friendship or membership of an association.

“Once such an impartiality interest has been declared, council members can participate in the debate and vote on the matter,’’ Mr Cain said.

Mr Noonan said they made the original application for additional use for the garden centre in 2012, which the city didn’t progress.

He also said when they bought the building in 2012 the zoning allowed for the a café.

Mr Cain said the city was unable to determine the application lodged for the Post Café and Garden Centre in 2012 because the garden centre was not a use that was capable of being approved on that site.

“A subsequent application for the café was lodged in 2019, which was conditionally approved by the council,’’ Mr Cain said.

“Those conditions were modified after the owners appealed to the State Administrative Tribunal.

“In 2021, the owners lodged a scheme amendment proposal as a step towards retrospective approval of the garden centre.

“That proposal was approved by the council in 2022 and gazetted later that year, clearing the way for the owners to lodge a development application for the potential retrospective approval of the garden centre.’’

He said since then, the city had contacted the owners a number of times to request they lodge that development application, but this had not happened.

“The city wants local businesses to thrive, but we also have a legal obligation to make sure businesses are brought into compliance with planning laws,’’ Mr Cain said.

“City staff have sought to work collaboratively with the owners to facilitate this, providing guidance and extensions along the way.

“It was the decision of the owners not to lodge the development application that could have resolved their non-compliance.”

Mr Noonan said when he found out about the Supreme Court action he started reflecting on how a development application was likely to have conditions attached which may not suit them.

He said they would want to take those conditions back to SAT again if he didn’t think they were reasonable and it was about that time they received the threat of legal action from the city about removing some of the chairs and decided to close the business.

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