By Sharon Webb
TASMANIA’S PLANNING tribunal has made a ruling allowing progress on a dispute about use of the former Meander Primary School, a dispute already costing thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The Resource Planning and Appeals Tribunal in October ruled Teen Challenge, the organisation renting the school property from Meander Valley Council, must allow accredited town planning and bushfire hazard practitioners onto the property.
As the dispute continues, Meander Valley Council has spent $20,000 on legal advice; MARRA has spent around $15,000.
Teen Challenge declined to answer legal cost questions but it is believed their legal expertise is donated.
Council’s general manager, Martin Gill, indicated there was no ceiling on council’s legal costs to defend its decision to hand over the property to Teen Challenge for a peppercorn rent: “I cannot anticipate the total legal costs. Council is obliged as the planning authority to participate in the current tribunal process.”
Since May, Meander Residents and Ratepayers Association has requested two experts be allowed onto the property to gather information to appeal Meander Valley Council’s decision to allow Teen Challenge to use the property to reform female drug users.
Teen Challenge has refused the experts’ access.
MARRA secretary Karen Hillman said: “We welcome RMPAT’s decision.
“We couldn’t understand Teen Challenge’s refusal to allow site access in the first place, given the site is not even in use yet. Their refusal also caused a six month delay that is at odds with their frequent claims that they are being prevented from operating.”
Teen Challenge spokesperson Tanya Cavanagh said: “We [originally] submitted our application and received a permit approval from the council.
“This approval was appealed against by Timberworld Pty Ltd and the appeal is currently before the tribunal. We see no merits in the appeal and so we intend to see the appeal process to its final conclusion which we expect will be that the council decision is upheld.”
More than two years ago Meander Valley Council approved Teen Challenge taking over the former school property for drug users’ education and residence.
This has not begun, MARRA having appealed the council’s decision.
Teen Challenge leaders Ms Cavanagh and Mr Peter Ferrall are using the property; Mr Gill said living there is not permitted and Teen Challenge must maintain the buildings and grounds.
MARRA’s grounds of appeal to the TRMPA are that:
Council incorrectly categorised the property as being used by Teen Challenge for “hospital services”;
Council incorrectly categorised the application as “non-residential use”;
the application does not comply with bushfire regulations because it has no bushfire plan;
there is no site-specific study showing the facility is a suitable distance from noise and dust generated by neighbouring timber business, TimberWorld.