Pinelands business sector speak out about lack of consultation on youth detention centre
Greg Strettles says the proposed site will impact his transport business. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
Greg Strettles found out the Northern Territory’s new youth justice centre would be built on his doorstep by accident.
- MP Gerry Wood says the NT Government tried to avoid scrutiny as it planned to build a new youth detention centre at Pinelands
- It originally planned to build the facility at Berrimah, near a new housing development it helped facilitate
- A Minister agreed the facility would devalue the Berrimah land, but the Government claimed it would be unlikely to devalue property at Pinelands
Assuming they were customers, the Darwin business manager approached three smartly-dressed NT Department of Infrastructure public servants, who had shown up in the yards of his road train transport business on a busy Wednesday morning in August last year.
“They were handing my tyre fitter maps about a youth detention centre,” Mr Strettles said.
“Their methodology was just to talk to anybody.
“They weren’t wearing the correct clothing, any safety gear, they didn’t sign in, they certainly weren’t inducted [to the site].
“I walked them out the front to the intersection and showed them all the issues I had straight away just off the top of my head, and after about 15 or 20 minutes I realised no one was taking notes.”
After he commented on it, one public servant began to hastily scribble on the back of a map.
“So I told them I was clearly wasting my time, and they left,” he said.
Less than 24 hours later, the Government announced it would build its new youth justice centre and alcohol rehabilitation clinic at Lot 67, Pinelands.
It later tacked on a sobering-up shelter to the plans and only confirmed the addition via email to concerned locals.
Claims of consultation rubbished by local member as ‘arrogant’
According to the Government’s re-zoning application, Mr Strettles was one of 20 businesses to be randomly approached by Department of Infrastructure staff on August 8, 2018.
The application also claimed Pinelands’ businesses had been “letter-dropped” information packs — but the industrial estate is not serviced by Australia Post.
It was all a strategy independent Member for Nelson Gerry Wood believes was carefully calculated.
“I think there’s no better example of arrogance from a Government that claims to be open and transparent,” Mr Wood said.
“Avoiding scrutiny at the planning stage is part of what I believe in this whole saga, is a lack of consultation and lack of bringing the community as a whole into trying to do something good for young people.”
Gerry Wood says the Government has been arrogant in its lack of consultation. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
The NT Planning Commission is currently considering the Government’s application to rezone Lot 67, Pinelands for community use.
“[The Government] claims that the planning commission is the opportunity for people to be consulted, but I’ve never agreed with that because that’s too late then,” Mr Wood said.
“Basically you can comment, but there’s no consultation,” Mr Wood said.
Having conducted a public hearing late last month, the planning commission will soon make a non-binding recommendation to the Minister for Infrastructure on how to proceed — but the Minister will make the final decision.
Minister admits Northcrest project behind Berrimah decision
There is a lot riding on the success of the Northcrest residential development, which neighbours the existing Don Dale Youth Detention Centre.
The Government says re-building the facility next to Northcrest will devalue residential land. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
Local developer Halikos was gifted the parcel of crown land next to the existing youth detention centre to develop the new suburb.
Yet when the Government decided to re-claim a portion of the free land, it paid Halikos $5 million to take it back.
Since then, the Government has announced construction and stamp-duty grants of up to $100,000 for new home builders, in efforts to stimulate the ailing private construction centre.
As it stands, land sales at Northcrest have been modest.
Halikos launched a legal objection to the Government’s original plans to re-build the centre at Berrimah.
Eva Lawler, the Minister for Infrastructure, said the Government’s decision to build the centre at Pinelands was unrelated to Halikos’ legal objection, but it agreed the centre would devalue the land.
“People may not want to necessarily purchase properties, residential properties, that are closer to a youth justice facility,” Ms Lawler told the ABC.
But at the same time, the Government claimed in its rezoning application that business owners next to the proposed site in Pinelands would not experience a drop in property value.
“Property value is a complex matter for land valuers and considers a range of macro and micro economic factors,” the application stated.
“The centre will be developed with the highest standard of safety and security and will accommodate buffers and landscaping.
“The centre will be unobtrusive and it not expected to impinge upon the surrounding land.
“It is unlikely that the development of a Youth Justice Centre in an industrial area on its own, would contribute to change in property prices.”
Pinelands businesses written off as ‘nimbys’
Deb Taipale, a business owner in Pinelands, said she believed both the Government and some members of the Darwin community had written off their concerns as “not in my backyard” paranoia.
“I don’t think we’ve been listened to by Government at all throughout this entire process,” Ms Taipale said.
Deb Taipale says the Government does not understand the needs of industrial businesses. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
She argues that building the new youth justice centre on Lot 67 in Pinelands would slice the opportunities for a future rail corridor, as well as expansion plans for the existing industrial businesses in the area.
“Why sacrifice some of the last remaining heavy-industrial zoned land, when there are plenty of other places it could be located? We have not had an answer yet as to why this particular plot of land,” Ms Taipale said.
Last year Deputy Opposition Leader Lia Finnochiaro tabled a petition against the Pinelands location to Parliament, with more than 1,400 signatures.
“My gut feeling is they’re determined to put it there regardless of what the people want and it’s as simple as that,” Ms Taipale said.
“But if the Government were using their brains, they could actually turn this into a positive … and say you know what, ‘you’re right, we have made a mistake and we need to find a better place’.”
Mr Strettles said he is preparing for the possibility his road train business will have to relocate away from its McKinnon Road location.
His business is on the corner of what is likely to become the entrance to the new youth detention centre.
Pinelands businesses have also raised concerns that the prospective site is within the separation distances of chemical and industry activity, as prescribed by the NT Environmental Protection Authority.
Dale Wakefield, the Minister for Territory Families, rejected that concern, and told the ABC she had been advised the risks could be mitigated.
“We have made the decision because this is a good planning decision,” she said.
“They can be mitigated through the design of the facility they can be mitigated through the planning of trees in that buffer zone and the use of embankments.”
Minister for Territory Families Dale Wakefield supports the Pinelands location. (ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)
Cost-benefit analysis shrouded in smoke and mirrors
The ABC asked the Department of Infrastructure to provide forecasted costings for the two scenarios of building at Pinelands or Berrimah.
The Department declined and instead repeated that the Government has allocated a total of $70 million to build new youth justice facilities in both Darwin and Alice Springs.
Mr Wood said he believed the Government was underestimating the cost involved in readying the Pinelands site, which would need a new road, new traffic lights and to be reticulated with sewerage before a single brick is laid.
Equally though, the Government noted the Berrimah site would require significant demolition work if it were to be used.
The Government’s plans to co-locate the trio of undesirable services — youth detention, alcohol rehabilitation and a sobering up shelter — on the same parcel of land was within the royal commission’s recommendations, according to Ms Wakefield.
“The royal commission is very clear that placing a youth detention facility next to an adult facility is not best practice,” she said.
She said that alcohol rehabilitation and sobering up facilities were a sensible match for the youth detention centre and the three centres would form a “rehabilitation precinct”.
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