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Hutt St Centre cleared after council's $40,000 legal review

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A controversial Adelaide City Council review of the Hutt Street Centre – costing ratepayers over $40,000 – has found that the homeless service provider has complied with land use regulations, despite concerns from some neighbouring traders and residents that the service is expanding unlawfully.

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The review, commissioned by the council in May, was sparked by a controversial Council Assessment Panel decision to approve a $2.2 million upgrade of the Hutt Street Centre, following claims the development could contravene land use regulations.

Those in support, including the majority of the city council and Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor, argued that the review was necessary to “put to bed once and for all” concerns from some neighbouring traders and residents that the Hutt Street Centre was unlawfully expanding, leading to what they claimed had been a spike in criminal and antisocial behaviour in the city’s southeast.

But it was widely criticised by the Hutt Street Centre, the State Opposition and opposing councillors, who argued it “lacked compassion” and would unfairly burden the charity, which is set to experience a spike in demand in the wake of COVID-19.

In a letter published by the council yesterday, barrister Dr Nicholas Manetta, who conducted the review on behalf of Norman Waterhouse Lawyers, wrote that he had “not identified any unauthorised uses on the land”.

He noted that when the Hutt Street Centre was established in 1954, the Adelaide City Council waved through the development application despite it being “not necessarily consistent with the neighbouring commercial and residential uses of land”.

“Incompatible land uses frequently lead to tension over time,” Manetta wrote.

“Where, however, a service is already being offered to the public at large, an increase in demand from the public, coupled with an increase in supply by the provider, does not involve any change of (land) use”.

Manetta wrote that while an increased presence of people experiencing homelessness at the Centre “has no doubt led to some increase in antisocial activity”, evidence from SA Police suggested that “the problems in the vicinity of Hutt Street are relatively infrequent”.

“The regulation of antisocial behaviour in public areas is squarely a police responsibility,” Manetta wrote.

“Council has no general responsibility as such for regulating anti-social behaviour in public areas.

“If Council is satisfied that premises are operating in accordance with the law, including in accordance with all applicable planning conditions, it has no further responsibility or general authority to seek to confine the operations on the premises.”

According to a council report, the review cost ratepayers an estimated $41,086.

Hutt Street Centre CEO Chris Burns told InDaily this morning that the review removed a “lingering cloud of uncertainty that’s been hanging over the Centre for months”.

“We did our homework a long time ago and knew that we were compliant,” he said.

“We’re just glad to see it out in the public now confirming that we are fully compliant.

“Now we just want to get on with being a good resident of Hutt Street and deliver the services for the homeless to get them to move forwards.”

Burns said the Centre had to spend a “very limited” amount of money paying for legal representation.

“The council’s had to pay a lot of money in legal costs, those who opposed us had to pay a lot of money in legal costs and it’s been all unnecessary,” he said.

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters this morning that he would not comment on the Adelaide City Council’s spending, but “the Hutt Street Centre has done an outstanding job supporting some of our most vulnerable citizens in South Australia”.

“We’re supportive, we know this is a tough area, we know there are various opinions with regards to the Hutt Street Centre and the expansion plans, but we’ve been satisfied that the money they’re looking to spend will improve the amenity, give better services to people who are seeking those services than doing it off the street,” he said.

Area councillor Robert Simms, who opposed the review, said he was “outraged” that the Hutt Street Centre had been put through a “destructive crusade”.

“I’m still aghast at all the time and money that has been wasted here,” he said.

“Council should be trying to help the Hutt Street Centre, not harming them at this time.”

Verschoor said she thought the council bill was “money well spent to put this matter to bed once and for all”.

“I am a supporter of the Hutt Street Centre’s modernisation plans and I can clearly see they’re trying to address the problems on the streets,” she said.

“I’m hoping the outcomes of the independent review will now put to bed any concerns about the assessments and planning approvals.”

InDaily contacted Deputy Lord Mayor Alexander Hyde, who called for the review, for comment.

Councillors will vote to note the report at a meeting next month.

Burns said the $2.2 million upgrade of the Hutt Street Centre, which involves building a new front foyer, laundry, recreation spaces, canopy and outdoor kitchen at its 65-year-old premises, was on track to finish by February next year. 

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