At Council last night we were presented with the application for the use of the restored St Joseph’s church at St Albans as an accomodation and function venue. We had originally considered this application before Christmas but it was felt that a site visit would be useful for Councillors to be able to appreciate the merits (and concerns raised) over the application. I was pleased to visit the site recently.

Steve Kavanagh, the owner and restorer of this beautiful and historic building really should be commended for his passion, hard work and creativity. When he took on the building, it had been a roofless ruin since a fire in the 1840s. Mature trees had grown up through the original roofline amid the crumbling stone. When the church was founded (building commenced in 1839), it was the largest sandstone building outside Sydney.

Councillors were presented with the need to balance the proposed use of the site as an accomodation and function venue with the understandable desire of near neighbours to the peace and quiet which is distinctive of the Macdonald Valley. I listened carefully to the concerns raised at the meeting.

I felt that the conditions of consent proposed by Council adequately addressed those issues. Constraints on the days and hours of operation, which side of the building on which outdoor activities could occur, and the installation of noise-limiting technology that physically cuts the power if certain levels are exceeded certainly demonstrated, in my mind, a willingness of the applicants to be a good neighbour. Similarly, issues about campers and parking appear to have been addressed through appropriate signage and the use of a bond for bookers of the venue.

The recommendation of Council staff was to approve the application, and my Liberal Councillor colleagues, Clr. Richards and Clr. Conolly, agreed with me that this was precisely the kind of sympathetic tourist development we need in the Hawkesbury (Councillors Tree and Calvert were absent). Regretfully the Mayor, Mrs Lyons-Buckett, all the independent Councillors with the exception of Clr. Rasmussen, and Labor Councillor Kotlash voted the application down and the venue will be directed to shut down as a function venue from May 2017. I am informed that bookings had been accepted through until well into 2018, and that up to 20 local businesses will now be denied the aura of economic activity that the venue encouraged (including other accomodation venues, function planners, caterers, celebrants and providers of transport).

It’s a bit rich, when we talk almost continually about tourism being the spine of our prosperity in the Hawkesbury, and especially in scenic areas like the Macdonald Valley,  and we have a historic and beautifully restored venue like this appearing in the national media (the kind of exposure money can’t buy) only to find some Councillors voting in this way. It’s a poor outcome, and it defies my understanding.

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