A PACKED council chambers erupted in rapturous applause when councillors voted to reject a drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility proposed for Gurwood Street.
Residents opposed to the proposed 12-bed Riverina Recovery House (RRH) at 199 Gurwood Street turned out in force for the second consecutive council meeting to hammer home their grave fears for the safety of the neighbourhood.
The abject refusal comes eight months after an earlier form of the RHH was run out of Lake Albert by residents citing the same concerns for the safety of their children.
Developer Debbie Cox has vowed to keep fighting, telling The Daily Advertiser a Land and Environment Court challenge is a very real possibility.
“These sorts of facilities have been known to go to court across Australia and have won every single time,” Mrs Cox said.
“The stigma in Wagga about drug addicts is appalling and by treating them like downtrodden members of the community who are worthless, they won't come forward for treatment.
“I think a lot of voting tonight (Monday night) was because of the upcoming election.”
Mrs Cox maintained recovering addicts needed to be rehabilitated in a residential area – as opposed to a farm or industrial estate – because they need to reintegrate into normal society.
Conjecture had run rife about whether a reduced 10-bed facility would pass muster under state planning laws and councillor Greg Conkey still believes that to be the case, but most parties conceded Monday night’s decision was a complete, unfetted rejection.
During the public debate councillor Paul Funnell launched an impassioned defence of existing residents, who he believes have been vilified and wrongly branded heartless.
“One resident left a war-torn area 60 years ago and has since lived a quiet life as a good contributing citizen for 47 years; he doesn’t want this in his street,” Cr Funnell said.
Councillor Yvonne Braid argued recovering drug and alcohol addicts were not to be trusted.
“I have been in close contact with alcoholics and you don't know what they are going to do day to day,” Cr Braid said.
“I sympathise with residents because I know an alcoholic can change within a minute.”
The two councillors in support of the rehabiliation facility – councillors Greg Conkey and Kevin Poynter – totally rejected the implication recovering addicts were criminals.
“We have a massive drug problem in this city and every street is compromised, not just Gurwood Street,” Cr Conkey said.
Councillor Poynter recognised community conern about recovering addicts being housed near children, but dismissed those fears as completely unfounded.