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"Vested interests" hijacking Hutt St debate: MP

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A newly-elected SA Best MP says public debate over the city’s Hutt Street precinct has been hijacked by “NIMBYs and vested interests”, and accuses the Adelaide City Council of wasting ratepayers’ money with “sledgehammer” policy solutions.

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Frank Pangallo, who was this week confirmed as one of two SA Best candidates elected to the legislative council at the state election, also told InDaily he was worried a closed-doors meeting of local stakeholders, convened by the Adelaide City Council this afternoon, was weighed in favour of those who were critical of the Hutt Street Centre for the homeless.

The council has refused to reveal who was invited to its “precinct working group” meeting or how they were selected, but it is understood that several Hutt Street traders and representatives from the council, SA Police and the Hutt Street Centre will attend.

Pangallo said he had seen a copy of the list of invitees and that “there’s not much balance there”.

“It just seems like they’re up against it … the Hutt Street Centre, with the make-up of this [group],” he said.

“The majority of traders if you go down and ask them, support the [centre].”

He claimed that the “element of secrecy” about the meeting worried him, because “this is a very public issue”.

However, he declined to say who was invited.

Pangallo said people with “vested interests” who objected to the presence of the Hutt Street Centre on “aesthetic” grounds were having undue influence over the public debate.

“We’ve got some NIMBYs [not-in-my-backyarders] there that are having too much of a say,” he said. “I’m not going to identify them, but they know who they are.

“They [Hutt Street Centre staff] do all sorts of work and it’s being dragged down by … NIMBYs that don’t want [the centre] there.”

He added: “Why has it become an issue after 64 years?”

The Adelaide City Council has posted a security guard outside Bici Café on Hutt Street and committed to installing five new CCTV cameras to monitor the precinct.

Pangallo tweeted this week that he had met with the guard, describing him as a “nice guy” who “had nothing to do but sit outside Bici Café looking totally bored”.

“A waste of ratepayers money,” he wrote, adding the council “would do better spending it feeding the homeless in the CBD-like [the Hutt St Centre] does – instead of this knee-jerk reaction”.

The owner of Bici Café has said she intends to sell the business because of violent incidents there over the past 12 months.

On Tuesday evening this week, the council also agreed to commission a staff report into the possibility of employing a team of “precinct safety and surveillance officers” to report anti-social behaviour.

South ward councillor Alex Antic told the council meeting the officers could be used to patrol not only Hutt Street but also other areas of the city.

But Pangallo described the council’s policy response as “total overkill”.

“Not so much the [CCTV] cameras – the cameras are fine.

“They have a security guard who sits there looking bored … with nothing to do. He’s got no authority at all [to make arrests].”

He said there was “more anti-social behaviour at Adelaide Oval … and probably Hindley Street than you’ll see outside the Hutt Street Centre”.

“The Adelaide City Council doesn’t seem to be showing much compassion.”

He said the council had taken a “sledgehammer” approach to the issue.

The former tabloid television reporter conceded that Hutt Street Centre had “outgrown” its current facilities, which were “rundown”.

He suggested the old Royal Adelaide Hospital site could be a workable alternative location – but added that moving the centre would only “move the problem from one end of the city to another”, inevitably irritating a different group of “NIMBYs”.

“All the negative publicity is affecting … a great number of staff [that work at the centre],” he said. “It really is a blow to the confidence of these people.”

Pangallo stressed he was making no criticism of Bici Café or its staff.

As InDaily revealed last week, the centre is considering moving location or upgrading its current facilities to cope with increased demand for its services, which include providing food, shower facilities and access to housing and health care.

Pangallo added that he planned to approach Greens MLC Tammy Franks to raise the idea of establishing a parliamentary select committee on homelessness in the city.

Hutt Street Centre board chair Phil Donato told InDaily he was looking forward to hearing from stakeholders at this afternoon’s meeting to find “solutions” to problems in the area.

“We just want to make sure that all issues are addressed,” he said.

“We don’t accept any anti-social behaviour. We understand that some unacceptable incidents have occurred.”

He added that Hutt Street Centre had put on several new staff members to help deal with growing numbers of clients.

He said the centre had recently accepted about 120 new clients, and that it was investigating whether it needed more resources to meet the demand.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese declined to comment. InDaily also contacted Antic for comment.

InDaily asked SA Police about what it intended to present to this afternoon’s meeting, but received no response.

Superintendent Craig Wall, the officer in charge of the Eastern Adelaide Local Service Area, told InDaily earlier this month that while the police have responded to reports of antisocial behaviour in the precinct recently, they have not experienced any significant spike in the reporting of crime in the area.

He said SA Police was working to combat “fear of crime” as much as crime there.

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