By Michael Hitch
The Bower Reuse and Repair Centre in Marrickville has been locked out without notice from its premises by the Addison Road Community Centre Organisation (ARCCO) due to an alleged breach of the conditions of its lease.
Customers and staff of the Bower arrived at 8:30am on Monday morning to find that the doors of Hut 34 had been locked by ARCCO, which has leased the site to the Bower since 1998.
An eviction notice was pinned to the door declaring “trespassers will be prosecuted”.ARCCO released a statement saying that the “difficult decision” to lock down the premises was taken after two years of ongoing disputes with the Bower.
The Bower’s General Manager, Guido Verbist said that the eviction was given due to a compliance order issued by Inner West Council regarding two 10-year-old buildings which had been constructed at the site without the former Marrickville Council’s approval.
“When we arrived here, notes were already on the door and that was it…we were out,” Mr Verbist said.
“We just celebrated our 20-year anniversary…and now we might be done.
“They claim that we have built or breached the lease by adding additions to the building, which we dispute because they were there before the lease commenced in November 2011, but they don’t agree.
“We’ve even engaged architects and structural engineers to prove that we can correct this because that’s a part of the compliance procedure, but the reality is that they’re using that procedure to evict us rather than help us correct a wrong from the past.”
Mr Verbist said he and his colleagues had been in contact with Council about the breaches and had planned to voluntarily demolish the illegal buildings.
“Even the Mayor, Darcy Byrne has already said in writing that the compliance order is not meant to evict people but is to help solve the problem,” he said.
“That’s part of the procedure and that’s why we had engaged a structural engineer and an architect with the demolition works that we will do…we actually were going to start today but they don’t want that. They’re on the path to evict us.”
Mr Verbist said there had been several disputes between Bower and ARCCO in the lead up to the eviction, including what he described as deceptive conduct from ARCCO regarding the length of Bower’s lease and a request to pay higher rent for the site, which is currently $20,000 per annum.
In its statement ARCCO said: “The decision was a difficult one and has not been taken lightly. It has been made with the intention of ensuring the safety and sustainability of the Centre for all its many users and tenants.”
“We regret deeply that the situation has reached this point and that we were unable to achieve a solution together.
“As this is an ongoing legal matter we are unable to explain further details of the disagreement at this stage – however we will share as much information as we can as soon as possible, in the interests of accountability to the community we serve.
Independent Councillor, Pauline Lockie said that she hopes for a resolution that benefits both ARCCO and the Bower, which keeps the Bower’s sustainability business in the community.
“It’s certainly my hope that all parties involved work towards an amicable resolution here because the community has strongly shown that they really value having the Bower there,” she said.
“I know there are two sides to the story, but I think it is a really valued resource within the Inner West and I would certainly not want to see it go.”
The Bower employee Riley Harrison said that the Bower’s services are a necessity for the community and that personal items from staff and customers were now locked away in the premises.
“We want to reach a compromise. We want to stay here and continue to do the work that we’ve been doing for the last 20 years and they’re making it as difficult as possible.”
“So, people are arriving this morning and expecting they can donate or buy furniture for their houses. Local people are coming in to buy resources for art projects and school projects. We’ve got all kinds of different people that are congregating here today that are expecting to use the service…and they can’t.”
“They’ve locked away stuff that people have bought and paid for. Someone’s property’s probably in there and they won’t be able to get it now.”
Mr Verbist said that legal action will be taken against ARCCO to try to protect staff and customers’ personal possessions which were now in the hands of strangers.
“We have lawyers now looking into it. We have also been able to convince them that they can’t start demolishing.”
“We can’t even get access to our keys for our truck…they control it all right now.”
Mayor Darcy Byrne has indicated that the council issued compliance order can be resolved without eviction and that he would like to see the Bower stay.
Cr Byrne has also offered to facilitate mediation to try to resolve the issue, an offer to which ACCRO is yet to respond.