On 18 April 2019, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) upheld a decision by Moreland City Council to refuse to amend a planning permit condition to allow an additional 10 pokies to be installed at the Glenroy RSL premises.
In 2015, Glenroy RSL Sub-Branch Inc applied to the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation to increase the number of pokies at Glenroy RSL from 40 to 50. On 22 October 2015, the commission approved the additional 10 pokies.
In 2015, the City of Moreland refused an application by Glenroy RSL to amend the existing planning permit conditions to allow the installation and use of the additional 10 pokies.
In 2016, Glenroy RSL made an application to VCAT to review this decision. On 19 April 2017, VCAT approved the installation and use of an additioned 10 pokies at Glenroy RSL and the additional pokies were installed in June 2017.
In 2017, City of Moreland appealed VCAT's decision to the Victorian Supreme Court. On 19 April 2018, the Supreme Court determined the matter should be referred back to VCAT for a new hearing.
VCAT conducted a second hearing over six days between October 2018 and February 2019, and refused the application on 18 April 2019.
Different evidence presented at second hearing
The evidence at the second VCAT hearing was substantially different to that presented at the first VCAT hearing in 2017 and the commission hearing in 2015. There were also amendments to City of Moreland's planning scheme that resulted in a different statutory context to the previous VCAT decision. These factors resulted in materially different findings at this VCAT hearing from those made previously by VCAT and the commission.
Changes to local planning policies
City of Moreland had amended sections of its planning scheme relating to applications to install or use gaming machines.
Section 22.10 of the planning scheme states:
It is policy to:
Discourage gaming machines in the following locations:
- suburbs of socio-economic disadvantage as defined by the SEIFA index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage (IRSD).
- in or immediately adjacent to suburbs with a concentration of gaming machines above the Victorian average.
Encourage gaming machines to be transferred from areas of low socio-economic disadvantage to areas of higher advantage.
Discourage gaming machines in the following locations:
- the core areas of activity centres where people congregate for daily convenience and social activities.
- suburbs where there are no alternative non-gambling entertainment opportunities, such as hotels, clubs, cinemas, restaurants and bars operating at similar hours.
- on sites within 800m of sensitive uses such as community health services, welfare agencies or public, community or social housing.
Ensure gaming machines are located:
- on the periphery of Activity Centres, outside the main shopping, transport, community and civic functions of the centre.
- on sites that can reasonably be considered as a destination in their own right, separated from shopping centres, railway stations and community facilities where people congregate on a daily basis.
Ensure gaming machines are located in venues which:
- have a maximum 18 hours operation and have a shutdown period for a minimum of 6 hours, starting no later than 2am.
- are designed to ensure patrons are not required to enter the gaming lounge in order to access any other activity or area of the venue.
- have a range of other non-gambling entertainment activities.
- already have gaming machines, rather than creating a new gaming venue.
Ensure that the operations of gaming venues do not detrimentally affect the amenity of the surrounding area through the hours of operation, the management of patrons and the generation of noise and disturbance.
VCAT considered that the Glenroy RSL:
- is located on a main road within the Glenroy activity centre, which comprises of two main shopping areas. One shopping area is located along Pascoe Vale Road with the other along Wheatsheaf Road. Both shoping areas can be described as strip shopping centres. Glenroy RSL is within walking distance of both shopping areas with the Wheatsheaf Road shopping area being closer to the gaming venue
- is within walking distance of the Glenroy railway station and bus interchange
- is located close to a significant number of sensitive uses, including schools, churches, welfare organisations and health services
- is located in a suburb of social-economic disadvantage
- is located in a suburb that has a concentration of gaming machines below the Victorian average
- is located in a suburb that has limited non gambling entertainment options such as restaurants, bars, cinemas and nightclubs operating at the same hours as the RSL.
VCAT also noted that, in the foreseeable future, Glenroy RSL may be adjacent to a three story building for use as shops and a child care centre.
Social and economic impact
VCAT considered that:
- City of Moreland is an unusual municipality for the purpose of the SEIFA index, as it is almost bisected by areas of relatively high socio-economic disadvantage in the north, and relatively low socio-economic disadvantage in the more gentrified areas of the south. The areas to the north, including Glenroy, have generally lower home ownership, higher mortgage and rental stress, higher unemployment, higher levels of public housing and other similar indicators, as compared to the south of the municipality
- the proposed renovations at the Glenroy RSL will result in social benefits to the local community from improved facilities at the venue
- the social benefit from an increase of $30,000 per year in community contributions is low when balanced against the additional expenditure from ten gaming machines
- the responsible gambling maesures implemented and maintained by Glenroy RSL are mandated by legislation and, while important, do not address the impacts associated with the proposal being inappropriately located
- because of its proximity to community, shopping and transport facilities where people congregate on a daily basis, Glenroy RSL is a visible, accessible and convenient venue
- no evidence was given of hotels, clubs, restaurants and cafes in the Glenroy area that operated at similar hours to Glenroy RSL and provided non-gambling entertainment opportunities
- on the evidence provided, the social benefits of the proposal are not of sufficient substance nor magnitude to counter the identified social disbenifits
- on the evidence provided, the economic benefits of the proposal are likely to marginally exceed the economic disbenefits.
CONSIDERATION OF NET COMMUNITY BENEFIT
VCAT determined that the Glenroy RSL Sub-Branch, within the ambit of the RSL in Victoria generally, performs an important role in the local community. As part of the organisation of the sub-branches, it provides social recreational facilities which includes gaming machines. These clubs are essentially non-profit organisations. The money raised from the gaming machines will be poured back to local community members and surrounding residents.
VCAT did not dispute the important role that RSL Sub-Branches play in their local communities particularly in respect to the social and other services that are provided to its members and more broadly to residents and patrons. However, on the evidence presented at the hearing, the social and economic benefits on the Glenroy community, and more broadly in the City of Moreland, were not sufficient to counter balance the significant negative social impact that would arise from the additional 10 gaming machines.