Minister overrules council on Ruah

PLANNING minister Rita Saffioti has overruled Perth council to allow Ruah to move its drop-in centre in Northbridge.

The centre is on Shenton Street opposite Russell Square but Ruah wants to build a seven-storey centre for women and children escaping domestic violence.

To free up the site, the drop-in centre will now move 270 metres to James Street. Perth councillors voted against the relocation in May after neighbours complained Ruah’s clients would be closer to their homes and businesses, given some had past bad encounters. 

The council’s planning rules say a “community or cultural centre” is a preferred use on James Street site, so Ruah would have had an even chance if it appealed the refusal to the State Administrative Tribunal.

Rather than see the lengthy SAT process play out Ms Saffioti intervened in late June, as the planning minister can call in a decision in the public interest when “the matter is one of state or regional significance”.

In her decision Ms Saffioti wrote “homelessness is not an issue that only affects single local government areas. It is a state wide issue” and she said it was in the public interest for these essential services to be available. 

She said homeless people were a part of the community as well and Ruah’s drop in service could be considered a “community centre”.

“I think any attempt to exclude the city’s homeless population in this way would not accord with planning objectives, would not be consistent with contemporary community standards and would be contrary to the public interest,” Ms Saffioti wrote.

There were more than 40 submissions lodged to Ms Saffioti opposing the centre’s reopening and about a dozen in favour.

Most opponents cited safety, crime and cleanliness, with some describing previous attacks by homeless people. One submission expressed amazement a unanimous council decision could 

be overturned by a state minister: “We live in a democratic country and these councillors have been democratically elected to represent the City of Perth.

“We appreciate that you are the planning minister for the whole of WA but these councillors have intimate knowledge of the City of Perth area and what is best for this area.”

by DAVID BELL

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