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Hutt St Centre hits out at opponents after winning upgrade approval

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The Hutt Street Centre has hit out at “vile allegations” that it is the cause of criminal and anti-social behaviour in the area, after winning approval for a $2 million upgrade despite “a very small group of very vocal people” campaigning to block it.

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Hutt Street Centre CEO Chris Burns told InDaily this morning he was “disappointed at some of the accusations that have been falsely laid” by some residents and businesses who opposed the upgrade, which was unanimously approved at last night’s Adelaide City Council Assessment Panel meeting.

The refurbishment 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.  

Lawyers representing businesses including the St Andrews Medical Centre, Colorectal SA, Arab Steed Hotel and restaurants at 242 Hutt Street spoke in opposition to the upgrade at last night’s meeting.

They claimed the centre’s increased scale and service “intensity” contravened land use regulations set in 1995 and, as such, no further development approvals should be granted until the city council inquired into the matter.

They also said the upgrades would increase anti-social and criminal behaviour along Hutt Street.

“I’ve been a practitioner in the planning and development industry for almost 20 years (and) it beggars belief that this fundamental land use issue and the centre’s operation has not been interrogated,” lawyer Chris Vounasis told the panel on behalf of the owner of 242-252 Hutt Street.

The Hutt Street Centre says the renovations are not intended to increase the number of clients or change its service offering; rather, to improve safety and security at the site by reducing loitering outside, and improving access into and out of the facility.

Lawyer Phil Brunning, who spoke on behalf of Colorectal SA and the Arab Steed Hotel, said there were “an increasing proportion of (Hutt Street Centre) clients suffering mental illness” and “a rise in the use of methamphetamine”.  

This development won’t grow or increase the services, it will just provide them in a better manner

He said the Hutt Street Centre’s operations also “give rise to a range of unacceptable impacts” in the city’s southeast, including trespass, property damage, drug dealing and use, public defecation and assault.

“This… element was not present in the operating environment back in 1994, whereas now it is sadly an increasing contributor to bad behaviour,” he said.

Brunning said refusing the development application would be “a signal to the management of the centre that they cannot wash their hands of the activity that occurs beyond the site”.

“We’ve got a situation here where such a profound impact is occurring on an on-going basis – decade on decade – and at some point the planning authority must, in my view, send a signal to the operators that you haven’t been managing your off-site impacts, it’s not warranted that you continue to expand and intensify.”

It comes after SA Police released data last year showing Hutt Street accounted for less than two per cent of reported crime in the CBD.

It’s just disappointing when it’s your own neighbours and their motivation is they just want you out of their backyard

Panel member Colleen Dunn said claims that the Hutt Street Centre’s upgrade contravened planning law were “astonishing”.  

“I agree with the centre and the police that they’ve (the Hutt Street Centre) probably been unjustifiably blamed for behaviour.

“It’s a significant social issue which will not be addressed if we refuse this application. 

“This development won’t grow or increase the services, it will just provide them in a better manner.”

Hutt Street Centre CEO Chris Burns described the development approval process as “long and drawn-out”, with the eventual approval “a sense of small celebration”.

He said in the lead up to the Council Assessment Panel decision a business owner levelled “some really vile allegations” against the centre, including describing it as “poisonous”.

“It is a relief and there’s gratitude that the council listened to the truthful argument and sees the benefit of the Hutt Street Centre,” he said.

“It’s just disappointing when it’s your own neighbours and their motivation is they just want you out of their backyard and they don’t care where you go, just don’t be with us.

“My sensing is that the majority of street support us… but my clear impression from talking to traders and other people who live in the area are the opponents are a very small group of very vocal people.

“Now we’ve got the ability to refurbish the facility and provide a better quality of service for people who really need it.” 

Hutt Street Traders Association secretary Wayne Copley said he would not make a public comment.  

Burns said the centre had no further plans for redevelopment once the approved works were completed, but it expected the number of clients to increase following the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“We don’t know what the future lies ahead of us post COVID-19 crisis, but you’ve got to expect that when the restrictions are lifted and the financial support goes away, we get double digit unemployment and potentially a recession hits there might be a greater demand for our services,” he said.  

“Before the COVID-19 crisis the estimate was we had about 150 homeless people in Adelaide, but as of yesterday we had over 300 in motel accommodation.”

Of those, there is an increasing number of women and children accessing the Hutt Street Centre’s services.

“I spoke to a lady in front of the centre this morning who had walked from Oaklands Park to Hutt Street and she walked out of the house that she lived in at a quarter to midnight last night and had been walking since then,” Burns said.

“She came to us to get some support and to feel safe.”  

Burns said the Hutt Street Centre aimed to start the upgrades “as soon as we possibly can” – likely in the coming months – with all services to continue operating during the renovations.

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