The owners of Geraldton’s derelict Batavia Motor Inn site want its itinerant residents evicted despite having not yet formulated a plan for redevelopment.
- The Batavia Motor Inn has been vacant for more than a decade
- The previous owners went into liquidation after a number of attempts to redevelop the site
- The current owners say it must be vacated before they can proceed with development plans
Between 30 and 60 people often stay at the former accommodation site at any one time, including long term residents and others who use it for short term accommodation while visiting the regional centre.
The incident prompted Geraldton Mayor and site neighbour Shane Van Styn to demand the buildings be torn down, citing regular drug and alcohol use as well as fighting.
While owners 54 Fitzgerald Pty Ltd declined an ABC request for interview they did provide a letter dated April 25 addressed to Geraldton MLA Lara Dalton and signed by company directors Joe Scaffidi, Anthony Scaffidi and Michael O’Sullivan.
The City of Greater Geraldton (CCG), WA’s Department of Communities, police and neighbours had been copied in on the correspondence.
The letter revealed the company had proposed a plan for the site, called Civic Heart, which had been rejected by the CCG.
CGG CEO Ross McKim said the proposal outlined a plan for the local government to move its administrative operations to the location as a foundation tenant.
“Councillors decided not to pursue that option because of the cost to the ratepayers,” he said.
In the letter, 54 Fitzgerald Pty Ltd requested Ms Dalton speak to the relevant state government ministers and begin evicting residents of the site because it intended to “robustly re-fence the site in the coming months” in preparation for any future development.
“We are placing all relevant authorities and interested parties on notice that prior to fencing works commencing, we will require vacant possession of the site and await your correspondence in terms of how this can be achieved,” the letter stated.
Responsibility back on owners
Ms Dalton said a range of state-run and not-for-profit services were working together to assist those living at or visiting the site.
She said the landowners were ultimately responsible for ensuring there was no unauthorised occupation and “everyone in Geraldton” would like to see a redevelopment of the site as soon as possible.
“I think it is the responsibility of the private landowners to ensure that that property is secured and does not present a risk to the community,” she said.
Ms Dalton agreed social housing was at a “pinch point”.
“There have been a few barriers with trying to get some of those accommodations back on track but I think the Department of Communities is working very hard to get stock back online,” she said.
In a written response, the Department of Communities said it did not have the authority to remove people from the site.
“The state government has written to the owners of 54 Fitzgerald Street, asking them to urgently secure and fence-off the land and address the health and safety hazards present at the site,” it said.
‘Day will come’ for evictions
CGG’s Mr McKim said the matter was a complex issue and all stakeholders had different perspectives on the best way forward.
“In terms of the property itself and securing it and preventing folk from accessing it, that bit is with the owners of the property,” he said.
“But then you could argue, ‘Where do these people go if they can’t go in there?’, and that’s when the other agencies come into play.”
Mr McKim did not rule out legal action to force the site owners to bulldoze the property, but said he hoped it would not come to that.
“The council is working with the developers to hopefully get a good outcome without the need to go down the legal route,” he said.
“At this stage the owners are corresponding with the state agencies regarding rehoming the current folk that are living in there and then securing the property.
“If that doesn’t have a happy outcome then the City does have a couple of options that it can pursue.”
Midwest Gascoyne Police District Inspector Jayd Morawski said police had not yet been asked by the owners to evict trespassers but he anticipated that day would come.
“We are not naive enough to think that is not in the future but part of what we are doing is building those relationships so when that day comes the police officers from Geraldton Police Station are not going in there in a way that is confrontational,” Inspector Morawski said.