04/02/2003 - 21:00

Outcare cries foul over Vic Park council’s call

04/02/2003 - 21:00

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PROPERTY values and politics won out in a recent Town of Victoria Park decision to block a community service provider’s office development application, according to Outcare chief executive Peter Sirr.

Outcare cries foul over Vic Park council’s call

PROPERTY values and politics won out in a recent Town of Victoria Park decision to block a community service provider’s office development application, according to Outcare chief executive Peter Sirr.

Mr Sirr said unfounded fears about the organisation’s clien-tele, and the impact its proposed Shepperton Road development would have on surrounding residential property values, led to a decision based on emotion rather than planning principles.

Outcare is Perth’s major provider of crime services, offering financial counselling, employment and training, and accommodation to past offenders. Outcare had planned to expand from its West Perth building to run an office from Shepperton Road.

Council had approved the development application in December, however Councillor Ken Abbotsford and mayoral candidates Councillor John Bisset and deputy mayor Bruce Stevenson requested a rescission be considered because staff had failed to include 12 letters in the council brief.

At a special council meeting in January, councillors rescinded their previous motion approving the application and passed a motion to disallow the office development.

Mr Sirr said a scare campaign of letterbox drops and home visits by security companies had spread misinformation about the number of clients that would frequent the office and the social problems that would arise from Outcare’s clientele.

Mr Sirr said Outcare’s work was mostly conducted through outreach programs in other locations, and in 14 years of operation he had never received a complaint.

“We would not expect to have more than 25 clients a week come to the building,” he said.

“Council had told us it would go ahead because the office would have less impact in the residential area than previous uses.”

Mr Sirr alleged the application had been refused due to the upcoming mayoral elections.

“I have been told that if we had tried six months before or six months later it would have got through. Justice is based on property values,” he said.  

Mr Sirr said Outcare was looking at strategies for appeal but the process was lengthy, between five and 10 months.

“It was only the second building we had found in four or five years that fitted every criteria,” he said.

Mr Stevenson said the council decision was based on sound town planning principles and was not influenced by the forthcoming elections.

He said there was an excess of commercial space in Victoria Park and it was more appropriate that Outcare developed offices in the commercial area.

“Residents had concerns in respect to amenity; they felt the development would put their amenity under threat,” he said.

“Property prices are driven by people wanting to live in an area. Residents felt that the development could impact on whether people wanted to live in their area.

“Residents would like to see the area changed back to residential.”

Mr Stevenson also had concerns regarding the memorandum of understanding on the application that disallowed the office operating after 5pm.

“You can’t have an office that is not allowed to operate after 5pm. What about people working back?” he said.

“There were grounds to have those conditions removed.”

Outcare’s town planning consultant, Peter Webb, said the proposed office development, open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday, would be significantly less disruptive than the fast food outlet that had previously occupied the premises.

 “Local residents have based their arguments on what might happen and had no proof that the Outcare clientele would under-take anti-social behaviour in their area,” Mr Webb said.

“These people are looking for help to integrate back into the community.

“Unfortunately some of the best decisions are based on common sense and objective grounds, not on what sectors of the community think.”

Councillor Nikolee Ansell agreed that Outcare’s application had been politicised due to forthcoming council and mayoral elections.

“These appeals are very common at this time of the year. It is not just Vic Park but the whole of Perth that has council elections in May and it is common to have a lot of appeals,” she said.

Ms Ansell said the planning argument used to reject the application was weak and Outcare had a right to go to the tribunal.

Mr Bisset said that, in 20 years of local government, he had not seen a decision based on its political outcome.

“I always consider if I had concerns about living next to a proposed development I would expect thousands of others would. It wasn’t the right fit,” he said.

“Maybe if it had come from residential we would have had something to compare to, there was no benchmark.”

Outcare has 60 days to appeal the decision at the Town Planning Appeal Tribunal.

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