UPDATE 3.30pm: Read more on the VCAT ruling here.
Read about objectors’ plans to take their case to the Supreme Court here.
UPDATE 1.15pm: The Australian Islamic Mission and the Muslim community of Bendigo has released a statement about VCAT’s decision to grant approval for the Bendigo mosque.
The statement says the groups welcome the decision, and look forward to progressing the project:
“The support from the Bendigo Mayor, councilors, members of parliament, multi-faith groups, the Bendigo Interfaith Council, religious leaders and the community has been overwhelming. We, the Australian Muslims of Bendigo cannot thank enough for their care and support.
The Bendigo Islamic Centre will be one of the significant community centres of Bendigo that will celebrate all events with the Bendigo community and set an example for multiculturalism, the true essence of Australia.
The Bendigo Islamic centre will integrate with all other Bendigo residents, communities and faiths and will promote tolerance, harmony and understanding, thereby positively contributing to the city of Bendigo.
The establishment of the Bendigo Islamic Centre will take some time, until then we as a community will continue to support each other to make it a success and live with peace harmony and respect.”
UPDATE 12.40pm: The City of Greater Bendigo has released a statement on VCAT’s decision to approve the Bendigo mosque.
In the statement, mayor Peter Cox said council had been vindicated for its original decision.
“Council agrees with VCAT’s finding that: ‘As a matter of principle, it is entirely appropriate for a major regional city such as Bendigo, which welcomes all faiths and nationalities, to have a purpose-built mosque’,” he said.
“In doing so, Council acknowledges this matter has been challenging for some members of the community, but the decision has now been made and it is time for all parties to put their differences aside and move forward in a positive and respectful way.”
The ruling found:
- No evidence of procedural fairness being denied to the group of applicants (objectors)
- No evidence of any significant social or other effects to the community as a result of the development and use of the mosque
- On its planning assessment, the proposal is an acceptable outcome having regard to the location of the subject land and the suite of planning scheme policies and provisions that apply. It is a good location that, with main road frontages and its relationship to industrial land, will have limited off-site amenity impacts. Nearby residences … will not be unreasonably affected by the proposed use and development.
Mayor Peter Cox spoke to the media at midday, saying those opposed to the mosque represented a “vocal minority” and the vast majority of people he had spoken to supported the mosque.
UPDATE 12pm: WATCH THE LIVE STREAM: Mayor Peter Cox’s press conference on the mosque decision.
Mayor Peter Cox’s press conference will remain available to view for the next 24 hours.
UPDATE 10.50am: Bendigo Muslim community spokesperson Heri Febriyanto has described the ruling as “a win for the entire Bendigo community”.
VCAT dismissed an appeal to the mosque this morning, approving the council’s initial decision and paving the way for the project to go ahead.
Mr Febriyanto said it was a positive outcome.
“We look forward to living in harmony now,” he said.
Mr Febriyanto said he respected the opponents of the mosque, saying everyone has the right to contest these decisions in a democracy.
UPDATE 10.40am: Objectors had not made clear what the negative impacts of a mosque would be, Justice Greg Garde said in granting the original council decision in favour of the Bendigo mosque.
“Alleged social, economic and environmental impacts have not been demonstrated as being significant or likely with respect to the proposed mosque,” he said in the ruling.
“There is no such place of worship currently available to those practising Islam in the region.
“The subject land is assessed as a good site for the mosque given its locational and physical contexts.”
He said the mosque would also benefit others in the community who are not of the Muslim faith.
The ruling also determined nearby residents living in an industrial zone “would not be reasonably affected” by the mosque.
VCAT ruled the objectors had been given a fair hearing and had “every opportunity to prepare and present their case”, including long adjournments to gain expert evidence.
DECISION: The path has been cleared for the construction of the Bendigo mosque after Victoria’s planning tribunal dismissed an appeal against the project.
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal approved the City of Greater Bendigo’s initial decision for the mosque proposal on Rowena Street, Bendigo East.
The permit allows “the development and use of a place of assembly, place of worship, minor indoor sports and recreation facility (sports hall) and caretaker‘s dwelling” and removal of native vegetation.
Objectors had argued the City of Greater Bendigo’s decision to approve the mosque should be struck out on planning grounds.
Objectors had also argued there was no demand for the mosque and it would only serve to attract more people of Muslim faith to Bendigo.
They had also attempted to dismiss the ruling judge on bias claims.
City of Greater Bendigo mayor Peter Cox will address the media about the outcome at midday.
EARLIER: Victoria’s planning tribunal will announce its decision on an appeal against Bendigo's first mosque tomorrow about 10am.
A group of about 15 objectors is challenging City of Greater Bendigo Council's decision in June last year to approve an Islamic centre in the city's east.
The appeal hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal concluded in Melbourne earlier this year.
But a decision was delayed after objectors launched another appeal, alleging bias against the tribunal's president and a deputy president.
That bias appeal was dismissed last week.
Bendigo council has continued to express frustration with delays in the appeals process.
The Bendigo Islamic Association wants to build the mosque, including prayer and teaching rooms and a sports hall, on Rohs Road, East Bendigo.
VCAT will notify parties involved in the hearing of its decision before it is published.