By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Greater Dandenong councillors have voted for alcohol being served at a shisha lounge in central Dandenong – despite opposing such venues in the recent past.
The venue at 24 Langhorne Street sought an amended permit to add a bar during the same opening hours and for the same number of patrons.
At a council meeting on 15 November, Cr Sean O’Reilly said it was not the role of council to “implement social policy ad hoc” but to assess planning applications “on its merits”.
In opposition, councillor Bob Milkovic was concerned about the mix of younger males, violence and alcohol in the CBD.
“We know the problems associated with alcohol in central Dandenong. We don’t need another venue offering alcohol for young males in central Dandenong.
“If it was a restaurant… that’s another thing.”
The council had recently rejected a rooming house in Dandenong “based on the same fears”, Cr Milkovic said.
A council planning officer’s report stated that the bar complied with planning rules and would “contribute to the vitality of Langhorne Street”.
“The use of the land as a Bar will encourage an increase in the businesses patronage and visitation to the activity centre.”
The venue would have “negligible” impact on alcohol-related harms, with “no adverse community safety implications”, the report stated.
The most likely impacts were noise and patron behaviour, but it was not close to dwellings.
The bar would be required to stop serving alcohol at midnight – an hour before closure – on Friday-Sunday nights to reduce potential alcohol-related issues.
There was a “saturation point” of more than 15 licensed premises within 500 metres but most were less-risky BYO venues, the report stated.
In planning terms, the shisha lounge had to be considered as a “place of assembly”.
“Any potential concerns with the interaction of a shisha lounge and bar cannot be considered, and rather it is the interaction of a place of assembly and bar that can be considered.”
The report stated it was “highly likely” that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal would issue the amended permit if initially rejected by the council.
In 2020 and 2021, the council opposed two shisha lounge permits on public health and amenity grounds.
But in both cases, VCAT ruled that “public health” grounds were irrelevant.
It was not the role of the planning system to “effectively outlaw” a “legal and legitimate activity” in Greater Dandenong, it stated.
Greater Dandenong Council has lobbied for the regulation of smoking shisha in 2013 and 2015.