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Hutt St Centre "frustrated" at being blamed for crime

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The Hutt Street Centre has rejected “misconceived” allegations that it is the cause of anti-social and unlawful behaviour in the city’s southeast, ahead of a council decision on whether to allow a $2.2 million upgrade of its premises.

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The proposed redevelopment, which is recommended for approval at Monday night’s online Adelaide City Council Assessment Panel meeting, includes demolishing the inside of the 65-year-old centre to make way for a new front foyer, laundry, recreation spaces, canopy and outdoor kitchen.  

According to the centre’s website, more than 200 people experiencing homelessness access its services each day, including meals, counselling and housing support.

The centre says the proposed renovations – the first since 2005 – are not intended to increase the number of clients or change its service offering, rather to improve safety and security at the site.

Council Assessment Panel papers state the proposed upgrades are intended to “encourage clients to enter the centre rather than loitering or congregating outside”, as well as to “assist in better controlling access into and out of the facility”.

But the proposal has received significant backlash from some neighbouring residents and traders, including the Hutt Street Traders Association, which claims the centre has contributed to a spike in the number of violent incidents along the street and should be relocated.

Hutt Street Centre is frustrated when its clients are immediately and readily blamed for anti-social behaviour in Hutt Street

Twenty-two Hutt Street traders signed a petition lodged by the Traders Association calling for the proposed redevelopment to be rejected on the basis that “what happens in southern Hutt Street impacts the brand, amenity and prosperity of the whole street”.  

The Hutt St Traders Association (HSTA) is vehemently opposed to any redevelopment or expansion of the Hutt Street Centre’s buildings operations in Hutt Street,” the association wrote in its letter to the panel.

“Problems majorly occur while their clientele traverse to and from the centre on a daily basis.

“Redevelopment of the centre’s building to make it more functional will make it more attractive to more clientele and exacerbate the traversing impact on the neighbourhood, including small family-owned businesses which are already suffering.”

Other letters submitted by neighbouring residents and businesses state clients of the Hutt Street Centre are “often intimidating, violent and also often intoxicated” and that the centre’s “open door policy welcomes everyone, homeless and housed, (which) is a major factor in detracting from our neighbourhood peace and prosperity”.

But the Hutt Street Centre has hit back in its letter to the panel, refuting allegations from traders and residents that it is “the cause or the source” of anti-social behaviour along the street.  

“Hutt Street Centre is frustrated when its clients are immediately and readily blamed for anti-social behaviour in Hutt Street,” the centre’s lawyer James Hilditch of Hilditch Lawyers wrote.

“The assertion that there is a correlation between the operation of the Hutt Street Centre and an increase in unlawful activity is misconceived.

“Our client is aware that individuals exhibiting anti-social behaviour can be found visiting other lawful and existing businesses in the street, including a licensed hotel and a small supermarket.  

“We do not understand there to be any suggestion that these other businesses should be closed and relocated as a partial solution to the concern.

“Our client rejects any suggestion that it is responsible for the behaviour of individuals in Hutt Street.”  

The letter references comments made by SA Police at a poverty select committee hearing in September, during which officers revealed they felt “sorry” for the Hutt Street Centre for being “incorrectly” blamed for inciting criminal behaviour in the city’s southeast.  

The refusal of the current development application will not address any of the issues of concern

SA Police Assistant Commissioner Paul Dickson and Superintendent Craig Wall said at the hearing that they had been “personally criticised” by members of the community for “taking the side of Hutt Street”. 

They also presented data showing the street accounts for less than two per cent of reported crime in the CBD.

But the Hutt Street Traders Association has repeatedly disputed that data, stating it only accounts for reported crime.

The association says the figure is low because the Hutt Street Centre is only open between 7am and 1pm Monday to Saturday, with crime “almost zero” when the centre is closed.

In his letter, Hilditch wrote the Hutt Street Centre has a “zero-tolerance” policy for aggressive or anti-social behaviour.

“Our client does not intend to become involved in a debate about who is to blame for any anti-social behaviour. It is a multifaceted issue,” he wrote.

“Our client is of the firm view that the refusal of the current development application will not address any of the issues of concern.”

A render of the proposed outdoor dining space. Image: Flightpath Architects

Adelaide City Council staff recommended that the Assessment Panel approve the proposed development on the basis that it “seems minor and (is) designed to improve both interface with public realm and functionality of service delivery areas for current activities”.

“The proposal does not involve change of use, increased intensity of current use or significant expansion of facilities,” the assessment panel papers state.  

“The proposed frontage design and new entrance structure encourages clients to enter the facility rather than congregate out the front, which may enhance operations and neighbourhood amenity.  

“There are no concerns or changes to suggest.”  

The papers state the Hutt Street Centre provides “essential services for the homeless and other less fortunate people, thereby meeting demonstrated needs of the community”.  

“The alterations to the building are considered a positive outcome for the street.

“Whilst it is acknowledged that some within the local community feel the current land use results in various off-site impacts, this application does not alter or intensify land use, does not seek to increase patron numbers (and) seeks to discourage loitering outside.” 

Hilditch and lawyers representing seven businesses that oppose the Hutt Street Centre development application are set to speak before the panel at Monday night’s online meeting.

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