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12 August 2020
BY DYLAN DE JONG
Council’s rejection of a high-density housing development in Horsham has highlighted a greater need to build more public housing.
A Department of Health and Human Services, DHHS, planning application for six double-storey two-bedroom units to be built at 6 Searle Street was rejected at Horsham Rural City Council’s July meeting.
The DHHS project manager, who preferred to remain anonymous, said plans were to meet the high demand of people on public housing waiting lists in the region.
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The land is about 0.1-hectares and currently has an aged single-storey dwelling, previously used for public housing, which is to be demolished.
Community objections criticised the character of the building, size and potential to overshadow neighbouring buildings, insufficient car parks, social issues relating to density housing and road-safety issues.
Councillors agreed with public comments and unanimously decided to reject the application. Before the decision was made the proposal had met the council’s planning policy framework criteria to promote growth and development in the region and had satisfied technical planning requirements.
The project manager said DHHS was likely to challenge the refusal at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, VCAT.
He said the units aimed to support small families in the Wimmera who were seeking cheaper housing.
“These houses were perfect for a small family like a single-parent family. That was our aim, but this was stopped because of the council position,” he said.
“There are quite a few people in Horsham who need housing. If you can provide someone with housing that is a significant improvement in the quality of their life.”
He said there would need to be greater community acceptance of high-density developments if DHHS were to build more affordable housing options in Horsham.
“The perception of the local people is a multi-storey building, something they do not want next door to them – but if you look at the council planner’s report, it complied to all the conditions needed for a planning permit,” he said.
“It’s not just a matter of council – it’s a matter of local people’s understanding. People perceive high-density housing as a negative thing.”
Mayor Mark Radford said affordable housing and social housing were priorities in the council’s plan.
Wimmera service providers including Uniting Wimmera and Grampians Community Health, which help people find housing, have also highlighted a growing need.
“There’s no doubt that Horsham is lacking housing opportunities, whether that is public or private. There’s a lack of housing and it is very difficult to find a rental property,” Cr Radford said.
“However, council’s final decision for 6 Searle Street was deliberated based on community concern.
“We want to encourage more housing – but when an application comes along, we have to take off our advocacy hat and put on our planning authority hat. The point of contention is where should they go? The local residents have told us this isn’t a great place for this sort of development.”
Cr Radford said he would welcome investors to convene with alternative plans that satisfied the surrounding community.
“While housing and investment is welcome, this proposal, in this location, was seen as unsuitable,” he said.
“There may be other suitable sites in Horsham more in line with the existing character to build that number of units on a block.”
Wimmera Development Association is preparing a housing study that investigates rental and property supply and demand in each Wimmera municipality.
Chief executive Chris Sounness said the study would allow leaders to make calculated decisions about what was best for the region using an evidence-based approach.
He said immediate action and greater leadership would be required to tackle the affordable housing issue. “We definitely need more housing at all levels in the region,” he said.
“Where there’s a housing shortage, people already at a disadvantage feel the greatest impact. As a region we must be proactive. We can’t be slow in making this happen because this will impact all of us.”
Mr Sounness said progress would be made when community could accept inevitable changes to the layout of Wimmera towns and rural cities.
“Everyone wants progress but they don’t want their own lifestyle impacted – that’s the challenge around community leadership,” he said.
“When it comes to social housing, there’s lots of literature that shows everyone is keen for it, but they don’t want to next to their house.”
Mr Sounness said compromise would be paramount.
“There clearly needs to be more housing, so there needs to be something that benefits the people in the community surrounds,” he said.
“It’s making sure where community change occurs that the benefits are shared.”
The entire August 12, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!