By Cam Lucadou-Wells
A proposal for a shisha lounge at a Dandenong community centre has been given the all-clear by Victoria’s planning tribunal despite opposition from Greater Dandenong Council.
On 10 June, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal stated the council’s public health concerns against the proposal at 6/171-173 Cheltenham Road were not relevant.
“While I am persuaded by (the council’s) submissions and references that there are potential health impacts with smoking shisha, I have not been persuaded that this is a relevant issue in this proceeding,” Member Michael Deidun ruled.
Mr Deidun said it was not the role of the planning system to “effectively outlaw” a “legal and legitimate activity” in Greater Dandenong.
He agreed with an earlier VCAT finding that “town planning is not a panacea for all perceived social ills”.
“It is not the role of this Tribunal to start to regulate the smoking of shisha within the State of Victoria, or determine that its health effects are too significant to allow the smoking of shisha from the review site.”
Mr Deidun found that the shisha lounge wasn’t a “change of use” at the Afghan community centre – which was already permitted to run a café, cultural gathering space and social activities.
Its hours of operation and attendance limits were unaltered, the nearest residence was 580 metres away from the industrial-zone site.
“As such, I do not regard the proposal as having the potential to further impact the safety and amenity of local communities.”
Mr Deidun was not persuaded by the council that there was a safety risk to patrons at night due to a lack of lighting and surveillance.
“I also do not agree with the Council’s analysis that a net community benefit is not achieved.”
The applicant Mohammad Bahrami had appealed the matter to VCAT due to the council failing to decide the matter in the prescribed time.
Greater Dandenong Council has rejected planning applications for shisha lounges in the past – including one in Foster Street’s Indian Cultural Precinct last year.
It based its latter decision on factors including health impacts as well as noise impacts upon future residents in an area earmarked for high-density living.
The council has also lobbied for the regulation of smoking shisha in 2013 and 2015.
Cr Matthew Kirwan, who had led the council calls for shisha regulation in the past, said the VCAT decision was “very disappointing”.
“Greater Dandenong Council is not trying to outlaw shisha but ensured that any planning matter that we’ve approved takes into account the community’s health and wellbeing.
“For them to say the council shouldn’t take that into account is for us to fail in our duty to protect occupants and users of buildings.”
The Star Journal contacted the proponents for comment.
D’Ghan Shisha Café, located at the site, has been advertised on Facebook since July 2019.