Scientologist bid for drug rehab centre rejected

Wyong Shire Council has rejected a Church of Scientology proposal for a controversial drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility in the Yarramalong Valley in the central coast hinterland.

A church offshoot, the Association for Better Living and Education, lodged a development application last year but did not bother to await Wyong's decision, outlaying $3.8 million on February 7 to buy the 30-hectare Yarramalong property owned by Albert Bertini, a financially-troubled millionaire who left Sydney two years ago.

ABLE planned to use the property to house 20 participants in a controversial substance abuse treatment program, Narconon, that has been associated with deaths in the US and Europe with some governments forcing the closure of its centres.

Yarramalong has been an upmarket weekender spot for generations of the rich and powerful. John Laws, John Singleton and the late Neville and Jill Wran have called it a home away from home and local residents were alarmed when word of the drug rehab centre became public.

Wyong Shire Council rejected the application after it was found to be incompatible with local land zonings and regulations.

Mayor Doug Eaton said in a statement that council staff had considered the proposal in accordance with the Wyong Local Environmental Plan and determined that it represented unacceptable risks to both life and property, given the flood affected nature of the site.

Councillor Eaton said that while he recognised the value of providing a range of treatment options for drug and alcohol addictions, this particular development was not in the public interest.

“I’m pleased with the outcome given the strong community opposition to the proposal”, he said.

“Having seen the matter considered in accordance with our planning regulations, I think it’s clear their opposition was well-founded. “It simply isn’t an appropriate use for this site”.

The chairman of the Yarramalong Community Action Group, Ron Lee, said locals were pleased with the outcome the centre but it did not necessarily mean the matter was closed.

In its determination, the council appeared to leave a door open, noting that ABLE had submitted insufficient information with the application, ‘‘making it difficult to fully assess the social impact, the likely effect on the drinking water catchment, or satisfy how water and sewerage would be treated’’.

‘‘We should not be complacent that this is the end of the matter,’’ Mr Lee said.

‘‘Incredibly the Church of Scientology purchased the property before the Council was able to make a ruling on their development application and they are therefore not going to go away. It is very difficult to imagine what sort of alternative use the scientology organisation might be able to make of the property and remain within the very tight planning guidelines.’’

ABLE spokesman Ralph Harris had not replied to requests for an interview at the time of going to press.

It was the second time in les than two months that ABLE proposals for a rehab centre has been rejected.

In Victoria on March 11, amid massive local opposition fanned by the police reports, Yarra Ranges Shire councillors voted unanimously 8-0 to reject ABLE's planning application to open a rehab centre in the township of Warburton.