‘Act of vandalism’: Council fight looms over CBD safe-injecting room

A Melbourne city councillor has moved a motion opposing a safe-injecting room anywhere in the CBD, arguing such a centre would cause the city’s “economic decimation”.

Cr Roshena Campbell made the move on Thursday as the council prepared to vote on whether to fight a proposed second safe-injecting room on the grounds it would hinder the CBD’s post-COVID recovery.

The proposed site of the new safe-injecting room at 248 Flinders Street, Melbourne.

The Age revealed this week that a new service is expected be located opposite Flinders Street Station, near popular al fresco dining laneway Degraves Street.

Cr Campbell confirmed she had moved a motion against the state government putting a safe-injecting room anywhere in Melbourne’s CBD.

“It is clear that a safe-injection room in the City of Melbourne will hinder the economic recovery of the city,” she said.

“If the state government goes ahead with the location that has been reported in the media, which we as a council hadn’t yet had confirmed, I see it as an act of vandalism.”

In a series of late-night tweets, Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp appeared to sit on the fence as to whether she supported a CBD safe-injecting room.

“The evidence shows that medically supervised injecting rooms save lives,” she said.

“Combating addiction is incredibly complex but reducing drug use on our streets would benefit local residents, businesses and visitors to our city.”

However, Cr Capp said concerns from residents and business owners were legitimate and understandable and that problems at the safe-injecting room operating in Richmond should not be repeated.

Cohealth Central City was the original site flagged for Melbourne’s second safe-injecting room.Credit:Justin McManus

“There needs to be a serious commitment to investing in safety and cleanliness measures to respond to concerns of residents, traders and visitors – no matter what site is ultimately selected,” she said.

Cr Campbell said the Richmond safe-injecting room had been a failure and was strongly opposed by some residents and businesses.

“Until they get north Richmond right, I don’t think that they should be expanding to a second location,” she said.

The motion opposing a CBD safe-injecting room, due to go live on the council’s website on Thursday afternoon, was expected to cite statistics on an increase in deaths and discarded syringes in Richmond.

In separate incidents in March, a man’s body was found near the grounds of Richmond West Primary School, next to the injecting room, and another man allegedly entered the school with a knife.

However, other statistics paint a public health success story. A review of a two-year trial of the Richmond service last year estimated that between 21 and 27 lives had been saved and 300 people were screened for hepatitis C. Some ended up being treated after testing positive.

An independent review panel recommended last year that a second injecting room be established in the City of Melbourne, where 51 people died of overdoses between January 2015 and September 2019, to take the pressure off the one in Richmond.

The panel found the Richmond site had safely managed 3200 overdoses by March last year but had not improved local amenity.

The City of Melbourne previously rejected an injecting room at the Cohealth community centre in Victoria Street, near the Queen Victoria market.

The council holds a 299-year lease over the site and this in effect meant the safe-injecting room could not operate there without council approval.

However, there may not be grounds for the council to reject a service at the newly proposed location, which is in the former Yooralla building at 244-248 Flinders Street, close to the corner of Elizabeth Street.

The new service is expected to be modelled on Sydney’s smaller, discreet facility, and would include community health services.

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