PROPONENTS of The Lookout will push on with plans to establish a residential rehabilitation facility at Dennington, and are awaiting a final decision from an independent arbitrator.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal asked Warrnambool City Council to state its position on the facility, with councillors deciding not to support it at the Atkinsons Lane location in a 4-2 vote on Monday.
VCAT will now host a compulsory conference at the end of April before a public hearing in June.
Western Region Alcohol and Other Drug centre director Geoff Soma said the facility was desperately needed.
“WRAD is disappointed with the decision made by council to not support the planning application,” he said.
“The Lookout Residential Rehabilitation Centre is a much-needed service for clients who require this important treatment to overcome addiction.
“In regards to the location unfortunately no matter where we build this centre there will be someone who has a problem with it.”
Mr Soma said Glenormiston College was not a possible location for the centre despite repeated calls from members of the public.
“As stated previously Glenormiston as a location is not available and other sites across town were considered in a search for a home for the lookout rehabilitation program,” he said.
“WRAD has invested in good planning to date and has been diligent in our responsibility to develop a quality treatment service. On a positive note WRAD are buoyed by the local petition which has collected over 1000 signatures in support of the Lookout project and this will be presented to Government. WRAD continues to develop our case for a planning permit which will be decided by VCAT in a few months.”
Mayor Tony Herbert was tight-lipped about his reasons for not supporting the facility at the Dennington location at Monday’s meeting, but told The Standard on Tuesday it had been the toughest decision he had made on council to date.
He said it had been a tough deliberation over several months and he still hadn’t made a final decision until Monday afternoon, just hours before the meeting.
He said he was initially “very gung ho” about the Dennington location.
“We heard from residents and looked further at the opportunities that have been presented at VCAT cases that have been won and lost and we have listened to WRAD at how they thought people were best treated,” he said.
“I feel that the amenity of all people needs to be taken into consideration – the people that are attending and the residents in the area – and I’m fully appreciative that fear can produce a lot of anxiety.”
He said while there was no evidence to suggest anything untoward would happen at the facility, fear among the community was high.
“Fear is an incredible thing,” he said. “It’s the unknown. I think there were a number of people encouraging this sort of fear among the Dennington community, which I think is a little unfortunate, these types of things can feed on each other, and even yesterday I was uncertain about which way I was going to go. It really weighs on me incredibly. It’s such a wonderful thing and we have so many people in our community that are in need of it. It’s looking after our most vulnerable members in our community. VCAT may decide that it is an appropriate place and we will as a council give it all our support. If they do not, we will support finding another location.”
Commentators on The Standard’s Facebook page had mixed reaction to the council decision.
Stacey Renea said The Lookout would be a place for people who wanted curb their addictions.
“It’s hard for people who haven’t been in the position of having a loved one in need of a facility like this – knowing the limited beds, the wait list as you see someone you care about be almost unrecognisable in front of your eyes,” she said. “It’s not until you need something like this does it come into a ‘want’. This centre is for people who want to get better and as it is knowing they have an issue and are willing to fix it is the hardest step of all for them. The hardest step for the families is the wait to get into a clinic and get them the help they want – before it’s too late.”