The redevelopment of a sports centre at Brunswick Heads into a high-density boarding house would foster anti-social behaviour similar to the inner-city suburb of Redfern in Sydney, a former police officer has warned the Land and Environment Court.
At the on-site first day of a two-day court hearing yesterday (Thursday) into the controversial plan to convert the gym-squash-pool complex into a 27-unit boarding house in Teven Street, rear neighbour and local motel operator Warren Dick said problems from occupants of the boarding house would spill onto surrounding streets.
Mr Dick said that as a former Sydney police officer, he often worked in the high-density suburb of Redfern which had many boarding houses and blocks of units and saw first hand how the ‘mental outcomes of occupants spilt onto streets’.
‘I’m not judging them but from my experience the occupants (of boarding houses) find it hard to get on in normal society… it will also be hard to maintain and require a lot of effort when you have 12 rooms full of 30 people,’ he said.
‘There’ll be lots of baggage not just here but other streets as well, and disruption to local amenity from noise and traffic.
‘Car parking around here will be a nightmare when you have 27 people and their friends also wanting to park cars, they will overspill on the street.
‘I envisage long-term social impacts in the area… I’ve operated down in Redfern and seen the problems from this style of housing.’
Byron Shire Council is defending its refusal of the boarding house of 34 units which it deems an overdevelopment of the site and which would set a precedent for an unacceptable level of density and destroy the village’s character.
Owners of the property Murray and Julia Stebbing appealed against the councillors’ 8-1 decision last June and recently amended their plan by reducing the number of units to 27.
Brunswick Heads Progress Association president Jill Ball told the court that research showed that as a majority of boarding house residents experienced high psychological distress and almost a third of those having mental health or drug and alcohol issues.
Mrs Ball said research had also shown more than 70 per cent of boarding house residents were unemployed and those who lived in them more than 13 weeks were categorised as being in ‘tertiary homelessness’.
She said the data flew in the face of the state government’s belief that occupants tended to include students, single women, young working singles and couples seeking affordable rental housing close to services and employment.
‘The limited room space in the proposed buildings is known to add to people’s emotional distress due to the feeling of being hemmed in, poor cross-flow ventilation and limited access to recreational areas,’ she said.
Mrs Ball said this was ‘even more relevant’ as the outside area of the boarding house plan had been cut back further in the revised plans.
She said Brunswick Heads had no direct services to help people in the areas of mental health and drug and alcohol issues, no available public transport system and limited police resources to deal with even current levels of incidents.
Annie Radermacher said the boarding house represented a complete change of character to the peaceful and quiet street and village, especially with increased traffic 24 hours a day seven days a week, unlike the squash centre which closed around 8.30pm most nights.
Owner/manager of the sports complex Julia Stebbing said the centre car park overflowed when the centre was busy in the afternoons, particularly with the swim school.
She said a total of 840 visitors a week, or around 140 a day, used the centre for various activities and she was aware of complaints in the past over noise from the squash courts.
The appeal is regarded as a test-case for a contentious state policy on affordable rental housing.
The refusal by council supported a campaign by residents who saw it as a major overdevelopment of the site which would have ruined the character of the village and amenity.
But staff had recommended approval for the redevelopment under a policy introduced two years ago by the former Labor government to boost affordable rental housing.
Mayor Jan Barham said the policy, which gives developers concessions such as fewer parking spaces and smaller room sizes to encourage affordable rental housing, was designed more for high-density metropolitan areas rather than regional centres.
The hearing, before Commissioner Sue Morris, continues in the Ballina Court House today.