One year of fighting

Techno Park residents. (Damjan Janevski) 410813_01

Jennifer Pittorino

Despite being handed immediate eviction notices 55 weeks ago from Hobsons Bay council, Williamstown’s Techno Park residents are still there fighting for their homes.

On May 18, 2023, up to 100 residents living in apartment blocks at Techno Park were told to immediately vacate their properties or face legal action, because of a zoning issue.

Techno Park, which has been zoned industrial one since 1988, sits opposite a row of fuel storage tanks, situated one kilometre from a former fuel refinery owned by Mobil.

In February this year, the state government made a minor but but significant amendment to the planning scheme which opened a path for residents to stay in their homes by claiming existing use rights.

In April council released a letter saying it would not take any further enforcement action at Techno Park until it has fully considered its obligations following the ministerial changes to state planning rules.

With no other option, the estate’s residents – a mix of owner-occupiers and tenants generally renting at below-market rate – are left waiting for council to acknowledge this change.

Lara Week has lived in the estate for four years and said residents’ rights need to be acknowledged.

“We are trying to take council at their word and give them time to respond to this change in the planning scheme, but it has now been four months,” she said.

“It was council’s choice to suddenly try to evict everyone, and council has the power to solve their zoning problem and keep people in their homes.”

Each week since the eviction notices were delivered, residents have come together for a community meeting.

Last week the group celebrated its 50th meeting, which Ms Week was a great display of courage.

“I feel so amazed at what our community of neighbours, under enormous stress and pressure, has been able to achieve together,” she said.

“We were told we had to leave our homes immediately, and one year later we’re still here, and still fighting.”

Matt Robinson has lived at Techno Park for four years, and describes the past year as “challenging.”

“Council hasn’t responded to our requests, we have asked them many times to answer us and they keep saying they can’t due to legal reasons,” he said.

“We still need that letter acknowledging our existing use rights.”

More than anything else, Mr Robinson said he is frustrated. over the “hard yards” the community has put in.

“These past 12 months have been council working against us,” he said.

“Council need to be responsible for the fact they are voted in by the people, listen to the people, support the people and work with them, don’t work against us.”

John O’Hagan moved to Techno Park with his wife and two young girls in 2017. Now 12 and eight-years-old, they too have the weight of this eviction on their shoulders.

“It has been really difficult, especially for the kids because we cant hide it from them, they know what’s going on,” he said.

“For a little kid it is upsetting knowing their home is insecure.”

Describing the last 55 weeks as “a year from hell,” Mr O’Hagan asked that council end what has “gone on for way too long.”

“All they have to do is acknowledge our use rights and this could all be over.”

Hobsons Bay council said it position remains as it has since the release of an open letter in April, stating it wouldn’t take further enforcement action at Techno Park until it has concluded its legal review.