Court gives group green light to build church in the Swan Valley

L-R: Tim Houweling (Director, Cornerstone Legal), Bronwyn Waugh (Associate, Cornerstone Legal) and Raj Makkad (Chair, Building Committee of RSSB Australia) with plans for the new church in Middle Swan. Photo: David Baylis
L-R: Tim Houweling (Director, Cornerstone Legal), Bronwyn Waugh (Associate, Cornerstone Legal) and Raj Makkad (Chair, Building Committee of RSSB Australia) with plans for the new church in Middle Swan. Photo: David Baylis

A RELIGIOUS group that teaches spiritual development and whose vegetarian members abstain from drugs and alcohol, has won a five-year battle to establish a church in the Swan Valley.

The State Administrative Tribunal ruled last week that the proposal by Radha Soami Satsang Beas Australia (RSSB) to build a place of worship on land opposite Oakover Winery was consistent with local planning laws.

The RSSB development was knocked back last year by council, despite staff from the City of Swan recommending it be approved.

RSSB made an application to SAT to review the refusal.

Cornerstone Legal Director Tim Houweling, who represented RSSB, said his clients were overwhelmed and excited they would finally be able to establish their own place of worship in Western Australia.

“I can assure surrounding residents that RSSB will be great neighbours,” he said.

“The Tribunal after hearing the evidence has made clear that there is no impact on horticulture or agriculture activity in the Swan Valley Rural zone.”

City of Swan CEO Mike Foley said it would not challenge the SAT decision.

“Council resolved to refuse the application under the Swan Valley Rural Zone Planning Objectives 4 and 7 under the Swan Valley Planning Act 1995,” he said.

“The decision was formed on the basis that the application was not for a traditional activity and was not consistent with the rural character of the locality.”

The City spent $62,000 in legal fees on the case.

Last month the City moved forward with plans to ban places of worship in the Swan Valley in a bid to protect the rural character of the region.

The proposed amendment is before the Western Australian Planning Commission and Environmental Protection Authority to determine whether it is satisfactory before a 60-day public advertising process can occur.

The Planning Minister will make the final determination.

Mr Houweling said there appeared to be an unwarranted fear in the community over the establishment of places of worship.

“It is not clear to me why places of worship are being singled out in planning, and treated differently from other uses that have greater impacts,” he said.

RSSB said it was looking forward to establishing itself in the Swan Valley.

The group was established in India in 1891 and holds meetings in more than 90 countries worldwide.

Its members are vegetarian, abstain from alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs, and are expected to lead a life of high moral values.