By Ed Merrison
A KNOX councillor has slammed the State Government for failing to close a planning loophole that leaves drug addicts and mentally ill people hidden away and uncared for.
Dobson Ward councillor Karin Orpen said the Government’s failure to tighten up boarding house regulations was outrageous and called a response to the Mail by planning minister Rob Hulls “shameful” and “misleading”.
Cr Orpen and other councillors are worried that current provisions let commercial operators open up boarding houses on residential streets without the council or community having a say on appropriate planning and levels of care for inhabitants.
The loophole relates to an exemption in clause 52.23 of the Victorian Planning Provisions (VPP). The exemption states shared housing does not require a planning permit if the building is in an area used mainly for housing, provides self-contained accommodation and does not have more than 10 habitable rooms.
The exemption in part cost the council two Supreme Court appeals against Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) decisions in 2003.
As a result of those outcomes, the council lobbied then planning minister Mary Delahunty for a review of section 52.23.
Acting planning minister Bob Cameron responded by agreeing the exemption needed to be clarified.
In December 2004 Upper House MP Bruce Atkinson raised the matter in Parliament on behalf of the council.
Mr Hulls responded in a March 2005 letter that he had noted the request and referred the matter to the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) for review.
However, the exemption is still in place and Mr Hulls last week told the Mail the council had never raised the matter with him.
“The Government has been made aware of it and has failed to address it to the detriment not only of the community, which is denied a say, but to the detriment of people living in badly run boarding houses,” Cr Orpen said.
“It is incapable of caring appropriately for people in Victoria with mental health problems and drug dependency and the loophole allows the problem to be tucked away.”
Cr Orpen, who is standing as a People Power candidate in the forthcoming elections, made her comments after Knox City Council refused to let a Ferntree Gully property become a nine-bedroom boarding house.
Councillors Debbie Field and Mick Van de Vreede also joined the debate on the 24 Craig Avenue application at last week’s council meeting.
Cr Van de Vreede said people needed affordable boarding houses, but it was essential to plan properly.
Cr Field said this should include disabled access, occupational health and safety and affordability, as well as proximity to doctors, hospitals and shops.
She said an ad hoc approach could lead to appalling living conditions for people who were often “the most frail and unwell members of the community”.
Cr Orpen said it was as much a social justice matter as a planning issue, and said section 52.23 would continue to be abused for as long as the Government failed to change it.
By Ed Merrison