City of Bunbury council asked to approve a visual privacy variation

Resident Steve Scott-Higgins pleaded with the City of Bunbury council on Tuesday, July 10 to stop his nextdoor neighbour from being able to directly look into his backyard and house.

During the council meeting, Mr Scott-Higgins told councillors about his privacy concerns. 

“During the entire building process, we as neighbours have had no correspondence from the owner, builder, or council outlining front or side elevations or window placements, although numerous requests have been raised as to our ongoing concerns,” he said.

“There have been no opportunities to object or address the design principles that may have provided alternate solutions.” 

City officers state in their recommendation that the proposal was advertised to adjoining landowners and that Mr Scott-Higgins ‘strongly objected’ to the application. 

The owner of the property, on Picton Crescent, asked the city to approve a variation to the Visual Privacy Requirements of the Residential Design Codes.

This would allow the almost-finished home to have a balcony that looks straight into Mr Scott-Higgins’ outdoor entertaining area and a child’s bedroom without screening.

Despite the proposal not meeting the R-Code requirements in relation to visual privacy, city officers have recommended council approve the variation because the neighbouring house is setback from the front of the block and both homes have an alternative private outdoor area.

City officers said the landowner received a building permit for the site in 2016 which stated screening be used to comply with the visual privacy codes.

In justifying the application for a variation to the visual privacy requirements, the owner said the frontage of the neighbouring property should not be considered as a visual privacy matter because the R-Codes ‘only refer to visual privacy behind the street setback line’.

The intent of R-Codes was to ‘to minimise the impacts of potential overlooking, not absolute prohibition of visual interaction’, the owner said.

Mr Scott-Higgins said one of the reasons the shire officers had recommended the application was because his house was set a long way back on the block.

But his home was built 70 years ago and he had no say in the building process.

Mr Scott-Higgins said the council was effectively saying it was acceptable for strangers to  look into a children’s playground and bedroom, if it approved the variation.

“As a father of two young children who play outdoors, I have a reasonable expectation of privacy without fear of them being observed in their own yard and within their own home,” he said.

“The direct vision into a child’s bedroom is an act that I would hope that council don’t endorse or support.”

While addressing council, Tecon Australia director Gary Fitzgerald confirmed the homeowners’ desires for the property. 

Mr Fitzgerald also outlined discussions held between himself and Mr Scott-Higgins about the proposal. 

“Our arguments is that it complies with the design principles,” he said. 

“The issue is not that we object to concerns raised, but my clients do take umbrage to the suggestion that they have any intent to look into a child’s bedroom or otherwise.

“We’re saying that, unfortunate by the design that is on-site, there is a necessity for the owners to have the house that they want and view they paid a lot of money for.”

Council deferred the matter, with further discussions set to take place on July 25. 

City of Bunbury Mayor Gary Brennan said if a compromise was not reached by the two parties before July 25, the council would reject the motion and the applicant would have the chance to appeal the decision to the State Administrative Tribunal.

Mr Scott-Higgins said he received an email from a councillor on Wednesday July 11, which said ‘it is imperative that you come to an acceptable compromise with your new neighbour and move on’.

The councillor told Mr Scott-Higgins that it was an argument he ‘cannot win’ and if it went to court the case would be lost.

Mr Brennan said the councillor had no right to send the email and only the mayor could speak on behalf of council.

Read more: