Retirees told to accept relocation offer

Sam JonesNorth West Telegraph
Residents Joe Wittahl, Damingo Da Silva, Peter Soldo, John Murphy, Bob Kynaston, Chris Whalley and Carol McCorry
Camera IconResidents Joe Wittahl, Damingo Da Silva, Peter Soldo, John Murphy, Bob Kynaston, Chris Whalley and Carol McCorry Credit: Sam Jones/Pictures: Sam Jones, Sam Jones

A hard-fought battle by residents of the Stevens Street Retirement Village is set to come to an end next week, with retirees being urged to accept the final relocation offers.

At the centre of the almost two- year dispute was an audit of the buildings, which found them to be structurally unsafe, susceptible to cyclonic conditions and unfit for purpose.

But a number residents, including long-term resident Carol McCorry, have dug their heels in, refusing to leave because of what they feel is an injustice and inadequate replacement accommodation.

“Some of us have been here for our whole life, we have fought this for years and thought we were safe when the former council made the decision to renovate and not relocate,” she said.

Town of Port Hedland commissioner Fred Riebeling said the decision made by previous council left the organisation liable for any damage or injuries sustained at the site.

“It’s been deemed structurally unsafe, insurance won’t cover anything and if we decide to keep it open and there is a storm surge, any injuries are on us,” he said.

Mr Riebeling urged residents to accept their final relocation offer by the closing date, February 28, or risk delaying the redevelopment of the site.

“I know it’s upsetting for many, but the fear of never returning to the site is unfounded, our intent is to rebuild,” he said.

“Those who are currently residents will be given the first units in any new facility built.”

Mrs McCorry said she didn’t believe the Town would rebuild, and felt she was being pushed out to make way for commercial use of the land.

“We’ve rejected their offers before because we don’t believe they will let us return once we’ve all left,” she said. “They are just trying to push us out so they can take over the site.”

Mr Riebeling rejected the accusation and said there were no plans to change the use of the land.

“There has been absolutely no industry or commercial interest in the land, we need to move residents for the duration of redevelopment so we can assess, plan and build,” he said.

“It is my intent to redevelop the Stevens Street site for seniors’ accommodation, subject to obtaining the relevant State authorisations; to clarify the confusion, I intend to formalise that decision.”

Retiree Chris Whalley said the lack of communication had left many at the village fearful for their future.

“We’re so stressed about where we’re going to live, the lack of communication makes us feel like we’ve lost our autonomy,” he said.

“We don’t want to spend our remaining years moving from one place to another, feeling like we have no home, we just want to know what is happening.

After speaking to the North West Telegraph, commissioner Riebeling said a letter would be sent to all residents to explain the process taking place, and what it means for their future living situations.

“What we need people to understand is that if even one person decides they aren’t going to leave, it will just delay the redevelopment and in turn the date everyone can return to Stevens Street,” he said.

The Stevens Street Retirement Village was first opened in 1960 by then Town of Port Hedland Mayor Arnold Carter, with money raised from various community fundraising measures.

In November 2018, the Town of Port Hedland first raised concerns and offered residents the option of relocating to alternative accommodation at Osprey Village in South Hedland.

Residents rejected the option, even putting a petition through to the State Government to have the Town of Port Hedland reverse their decision.

On May 22, 2019, residents were thrown a lifeline, when the Town council voted 6-3 in support of replacing the 22 villas with transportable homes as part of an estimated $11.6 million redevelopment.

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