controversial decision – development application for a place of worship refused on the grounds of a potential risk to safety

The Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe made a development application to Waverley Council to demolish a tennis club and build a synagogue on the land. The Council’s decision to reject the application was challenged in Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe v Waverley Council [2017] NSWLEC 1404. The Commissioner rejected the Council’s first argument; that the synagogue would not fit with the character of the area. He then went on to consider the Council’s second argument; that security concerns made the development inappropriate. The decision referenced ‘identified threats’ against the synagogue, and also found it appropriate to consider the wider context of potential terrorist attacks. The Commissioner found that the potential safety risk was a concern with a reasonable basis and an issue genuinely in dispute.

The applicant addressed the risk with a Crime Prevention through Environmental Design Plan, which included the construction of high security walls around the synagogue. The Commissioner felt that the applicant should also have provided a specific crime risk assessment under Part A of the Crime Prevention Guidelines of the Environmental Protection Act. As a result, he found that sufficient evidence was not adduced by the plaintiff to address the security concern that the construction for the synagogue would pose an unacceptable risk of threat. In coming to this conclusion, the Commissioner considered the safety of people attending the synagogue, those meeting outside, and also the safety of the area’s residents.

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