Banyule Council’s secret purchase

Words by Jane Gillard

Banyule City Council agreed to spend $1.25 million on a house for a community hub hours before turning down a request for help from the Montmorency community hub.

The Monty Community Hub community group had asked for $1.5 million as an investment or a low interest loan to help it keep a 1933 sqm property the group owned.

But hours before knocking back the request for help, council purchased 7 Wellington Street Montmorency, which sits next to the car park behind Were Street.

The decision was made in a confidential council decision before the public meeting on 20 March 2023.

Council also bought 74 Watsonia Road, Watsonia for $880,000. Notification of the purchases was published on the council’s website on 24 April.

However, the council’s 10-year infrastructure plan which was adopted by Council on 26 June 2023, did not list the newly-purchased Watsonia or Montmorency properties as part of the council’s assets.

The Community Infrastructure Plan 2023-2033 identified the need for a neighbourhood house or community hub facility for the Montmorency area.

The plan said: “Petrie Park Hall provides a large hall that is suitable for volunteer groups to deliver programs and activities. The hall is in good condition but requires upgrades to the toilets. 

“A short walk from Petrie Park is Monty Hub which is run by volunteers and delivers a range of activities in addition to providing welcoming meeting spaces.” 

The report added: “Montmorency is a suitable location for a Community Neighbourhood House as it is in walking distance of the train station and can be accessed by bus from Lower Plenty, Viewbank, Yallambie and walking distance from some parts of Briar Hill.”

However, council failed to consult the Montmorency community prior to the purchase of the Wellington Street house and the purchase of the property is not widely known in the community.

At a council meeting on 7 August, Council resolved to endorse the use of the site as a community hub and seek expressions of interest for a not-for-profit provider to operate the hub.

The meeting minutes also revealed more about the purchase, which was done as a strategic land acquisition.

There is currently a three-bedroom house with one bathroom on the 755 sqm property and it will need to be renovated to change its use from a home to a community hub.

At the council meeting, the councillors also resolved to allocate $30,000 to appoint an architect to complete modification designs, quantity surveyor report and cost estimate.

A further $10,000 was allocated to maintain the lawns and gardens until the future use is resolved. 

At the council meeting, two community members spoke against the resolution and one person wrote in against the resolution.

The council report said an expression of interest to operate a neighbourhood house or community hub was to be advertised in a fair and transparent process. It added that the lease to operate the site would be in line with other Neighbourhood Houses in the municipality.

Council also said the successful operator may be required to be a signatory to the Neighbourhood House Partnership Framework – but that there would be no funding available to operate any future community hub through the Neighbourhood House funding arrangements through the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

A Banyule City Council spokesperson said that council had purchased a property at 7 Wellington St, Montmorency, which will be renovated for use as a community space. 

The statement added that council was in the process of developing guidelines and will soon call for expressions of interest from groups to run a community facility and deliver a range of community programs at the Wellington Street facility.

Banyule Mayor, Councillor Peter Castaldo said “The purchase of the property at Wellington Street provides an ideal community space in the centre of Monty, close to public transport, car parking, the park and other services. I’m excited to see that facility being used by community groups in the near future.”