UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Brian and Sue Soley are considering returning to Tasmania.
UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Brian and Sue Soley are considering returning to Tasmania.

Catholic church putting ‘corporate interests above people’

THE Catholic church is once again under fire for putting corporate interests above principles of compassion and care.

This time plans for the demolition of units and the redevelopment of land along Sawtell Road have left elderly residents fearful for their future.

"At my age the thought of finding somewhere else to live is horrifying," 90-year-old resident Lyn Besnard said.

She has lived at Villa Maria for 12 years.

Sawtell Catholic Care CEO Michael Darragh says the units along 115 - 117 Sawtell Rd are becoming quite dilapidated and are posing an increasing health risk as time goes by.

"So we need to address this rebuild as a priority for the safety of all concerned," Mr Darragh said.

"It's great our residents love living there and with us at Sawtell Catholic Care, and I know they hate change and disruption; however, we cannot avoid this in the circumstances.

"Some short term disruption will result in a much improved and safer outcome for everyone."

Residents like Sue Soley don't deny the units are in need of a revamp but say more maintenance should have been done over the years, and that in recent times the church has been putting its corporate interests first.

"We've been here over 10 years and seen very little maintenance carried out," Mrs Soley said.

"We're only renters and we know that but they never used to make us feel that way. We felt like we were considered permanent residents," Mrs Soley said.

Sawtell Catholic Care CEO Michael Darragh will meet with concerned residents including Joe Ilk (at right) on Tuesday. 90-year-old resident Lyn Besnard (centre) has lived at Villa Maria for 12 years.
Sawtell Catholic Care CEO Michael Darragh will meet with concerned residents including Joe Ilk (at right) on Tuesday. 90-year-old resident Lyn Besnard (centre) has lived at Villa Maria for 12 years.

Mr Darragh says residents will be offered assistance in finding alternative accommodation while the rebuild takes place.

But residents like Joe Ilk have little confidence given his experience in recent years.

"Over the past two years they've gradually withdrawn services and they're not living up to their motto of 'we care'," Mr Ilk said.

"They're putting corporate interests above people. They say they will assist us but when you ring it's very hard to get through and when I did get through to ask for help finding alternative accommodation I was told they were compiling a list."

A letter to residents on June 26 stated a development application for the site will be submitted to Council by the end of this year, with a projected demolition potentially occurring in early 2021, subject to approval.

Sawtell Catholic Care has plans to demolish Villa Maria units on Sawtell Road and redevelop the site.
Sawtell Catholic Care has plans to demolish Villa Maria units on Sawtell Road and redevelop the site.

It also states former residents will be given first preference and priority for a brand new unit subject to eligibility criteria regarding financial disadvantage, as per current arrangements.

The latest plan comes in the context of several other controversial church developments in the region.

Recently three Coffs Harbour City Councillors lodged a rescission motion to stop approval for eight units on a corner block between Boronia and Honeysuckle Streets and Fourth Ave near the Sawtell Catholic Church.

RELATED: Motion to halt controversial church development defeated

The rescission motion was overturned meaning the development can now go ahead.

The church is also fighting Council on the approval of 52 units in Woolgoolga. Heights exceed limits and there are concerns in relation to parking and flooding on the low lying block.

RELATED: Church to bypass Council on $21.5m high-rise

Not happy with Council's decision to defer the Woolgoolga DA to carry out a second round public consultation the church will now bypass Council and take the $21.5m proposal straight to the State Government.

Sawtell Catholic Care CEO Michael Darragh is meeting with Villa Maria residents on Tuesday.



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