LABOR’S state planning minister Rita Saffioti will intervene in Perth council’s decision to reject a Northbridge homeless drop-in centre’s relocation to James Street.
At its May meeting Perth council rejected homeless service provider Ruah’s plan to move the Shenton Street centre a 270m walk away, so it could build a seven-storey women and children’s refuge on the site.
The move required the council to approve a “change of use” to turn the James Street building into a “community or cultural centre”, but it was rejected on the basis of threats to amenity and safety outlined by many objections from concerned locals who’d be the centre’s new neighbours.
Ruah appealed the decision to the State Administrative Tribunal but a day before the case’s preliminary hearing Ms Saffioti announced she would exercise her ministerial power to “call in” the matter and decide on the change of use herself.
Ms Saffioti told parliament on June 23: “Ruah has also written to me asking that I, as Minister for Planning, call in the application and that I determine that application for the change of use. I want to report today that I have agreed to determine the change of use application for that centre.”
The minister can only step in on SAT appeals if an application deals with issues of state or regional importance, and isn’t restricted to making decisions based on planning policy but can also consider the public interest.
Ms Saffioti said: “We know that the issues surrounding homelessness are difficult, and they are difficult to manage throughout the community.
“However, it is important that we stay strong and make decisions that benefit the entire community, and in particular those who are at risk and who need the services.
“Without this decision, and without this process, not only would the drop-in centre for the homeless be impacted, but also the application and proposal to build a seven-storey new dedicated facility for family and domestic violence.
“It is important that the overall package from the state government be considered from a strategic point of view.”
Submissions to Ms Saffioti are open to July 6.
At the June 28 Perth council meeting deputy lord mayor Di Bain said: “The City has engaged a specialist planning lawyer to assist with our submission”. It will also be forwarding more than 100 opposing statements from locals who originally objected to the move, and inviting them to make new submissions.
Whatever her decision Ms Saffioti must provide reasons to the City of Perth and both houses of Parliament.
If Ms Saffioti reverses the council’s decision it’ll be the second time they’ve been overruled over Ruah’s plans.
In April, Ruah’s application to build the seven-storey women and children’s shelter that’ll be replacing the drop-in centre went to the joint development assessment panel. The project’s cost was stated as $15m so it’s exactly at the threshold where the state government rules deem the matter too significant to be decided by the council alone.
The two councillors on the joint panel, Liam Gobbert and Catherine Lezer, voted against it after hearing residents’ concerns but they were overruled by the three panel members appointed by the state government.
by DAVID BELL