Council says NO to Cottage

By Myles Peterson

Shepparton drug and alcohol rehabilitation accommodation facility The Cottage will be forced to close.

Greater Shepparton City Councillors last night voted five to four to refuse a planning permit to the facility, rendering its continued operation extremely unlikely.

Moves via VCAT have already been put in place and a succession of hearings will occur during the coming months, culminating with a two-day hearing in October that should effectively see an end to the St Andrews Rd complex.

Councillors Summer, Patterson, Hazelman and Abdullah voted in favour of the planning permit.

Councillors Sutton, Adem, Oroszvary, Giovanetti and O’Keeffe voted against.

Cr Fern Summer put forward the motion for the planning permit to be granted.

‘‘Some (residents of the area) say the issue has consumed their lives and is impacting on their mental health, but I struggle to understand that,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m a nurse and I deal with people who have addictions and I can tell you from experience they are not who you’d think.’’

Mayor O’Keeffe disagreed.

‘‘The facility is needed, we all agree with that ... I see the need. I just don’t like the process of what has occurred here. It needs to be done the right way by a proven model, so I’m sorry, I do not support it,’’ she said.

Security personnel estimated it was a much larger turnout than normal for a public council meeting, with onlookers filling the main gallery and spilling out into an adjacent hallway.

‘‘The support that came from some of the councillors, they understood completely. Fear has the others,’’ The Cottage’s company secretary Rob Bryant said.

‘‘Our people will be looked after no matter what.

‘‘We’re disappointed for the community.’’

Dozens of supporters of The Cottage reportedly arrived early; they commanded front row seats and displayed placards bearing slogans such as, ‘Please support The Cottage’ and ‘We need your support’.

A fierce battle has raged during recent months regarding the facility’s operation.

The Cottage first opened in April, 2017, without planning permission and took in its first clients in June of the same year.

The council was made aware of its operations in February following a complaint by nearby residents and promptly conducted inspections.

An order for a planning permit quickly followed and later an application to VCAT to have the facility shut down.

Management of the facility claims 65 former addicts have been assisted by programs run through The Cottage during its one-year operation.

Opponents of The Cottage, many of them residents who live in the vicinity of the St Andrews Rd compound, claim it was unfair they were never consulted during the planning and start-up phase.

Mr Bryant told The News a planning permit was never sought because it was believed the facility operated under an exemption offered to crisis accommodation.

Legal advice sought by Greater Shepparton City Council in February stated a permit was required, which kicked off a series of events that led to Tuesday night’s vote.