National Party Federal MP John Forrest says he is prepared to go in and bat for Mildura residents affected by the construction of a Commonwealth funded housing project for homeless people in Deakin Avenue.
For several weeks Mr Forrest has been trying to unravel the circumstances of how the building was approved without local residents being consulted on aspects of its design.
“I have heard no-one say that the idea to provide this kind of social housing is a bad thing, only that by allowing it to be two storey’s it invades the privacy of adjacent landholders,” Mr Forrest said.
“My experience as a consulting engineer before I went into politics tells me that this building is a disaster.”
“I can’t believe that mild steel handrails are used on the staircases and I am sure it would have been cheaper to provide individual air conditioning units than to build the cage around it,” Mr Forrest said.
“I think the design of the building is terrible but aesthetics aside the result has placed great trauma on the lives of adjoining residents.”
Mr Forrest said that he was still attempting to find how a building permit had been issued without consultation with residents.
“We now know the matter was approved by the Victorian State Government and there had been some consultation with Mildura Rural City Council”
But Mr Forrest said he believed that Councillors were not given specific design information about the building.
“The Commonwealth demands that there is consultation with affected persons and only recently there was proof of this at Sale because being on the Parliamentary Works Committee I had been involved with planning approvals associated with a $187 million upgrade of the Department of Defence facility and what is proposed has been thoroughly canvassed with the local community stakeholders”
Adjoining resident Mr Phil Douglas said that under Victorian legislation there was an obligation for the State to also comply with regulations and that this required consultation with nearby residents and affected persons.
Mildura businessman Sam Stizza, who owns the freehold of the motel next door and a housing block adjoining in Langtree Parade said that he had tried to secure information from the Mildura Council Planning Office before construction began but his request was denied.
“I was told that I could not see the plans of the building because of privacy concerns.”
Another adjoining landholder told a similar story and that he had been denied information on the project because of privacy and was told that because it was a State project, there could be no objections.
Mr Forrest held a meeting with the Mildura Council CEO Mark Henderson late on Thursday but details of that meeting are yet to be known.
A Department of Housing Project officer arrived in Mildura late on Thursday and will speak with adjoining residents sometime on Friday.
Two Mildura Rural City Councillors - Cr Judy Harris, who lives nearby in 12th Street and Cr Max Thorburn - attended the gathering of concerned people outside the building on Wednesday morning.
Cr Thorburn said that it appeared from documentation the current State Minister for Housing Wendy Lovell has released there had been some correspondence with Mildura Rural City Council back in 2010 prior to the issue of the permit in Melbourne in February of that year.
“I understand that one of the Councillors of the time Vernon Knight through Mallee Family Care may have been one of the people who signed the application form seeking Commonwealth funding for the project and there is nothing wrong with that.”
“I also believe that Mr Knight, while a Councillor may have had discussions with the former Council Statutory Manager of Planning Rebecca Mouy but access to that information and perhaps details of the project was lost to Council when he resigned from Council last year.”
“Prior to that Ms Mouy, who I believe had probably dealt with the correspondence from the State, had married, gone on maternity leave and then resigned when she chose to remain in Melbourne after subsequent marriage failure.”
“So Councilors’ seem to have lost access to a whole lot of information which should have not only been available to them but to the concerned residents as well.”
“There is no doubt the residents would have complained about the building design if they had been shown the plans or given the information they should have received or been even partially consulted about.”