Almost a decade of anger and frustration was directed at Port Stephens Council representatives during a stormy public meeting staged outside the abandoned Tilligerry shopping plaza site last Thursday.
More than 80 residents congregated at the property - the old Bi-Lo site in President Wilson Walk - which they say is unsafe and potentially a health and fire hazard.
In calling for action, the residents’ latest concerns centred around the removal of boarding panels installed around the building to keep intruders out.
Central ward councillor Steve Tucker, along with two council staff members, faced the barrage of criticism from residents looking for answers.
Cr Tucker, a long-time resident of Tanilba Bay, said that the council was limited in its authority.
“The council can issue a compliance order to the owner to ensure that the building is safe and encourage negotiations with the owners on the future use of the site … otherwise its hands are tied.”
A council spokesperson acknowledged that the site had deteriorated significantly since it became vacant nearly a decade ago.
“We share the community’s concerns about its unsightly condition ... we have continued to investigate and report any unsafe situations. Where necessary, we have required that the owner undertake appropriate rectification works,” the spokesperson said.
“Keeping properties in a safe and healthy condition rests with the owner or occupier. Local councils are able to intervene when unsafe or unhealthy situations are reported.”
The spokesperson said that the removal of panels allowing access inside the building was reported to council on August 26 and the compliance team had contacted the owner.
The owners of the property were contacted by the Examiner but had not responded at time of publication on Tuesday.
Thursday’s gathering was called by long-time Tanilba Bay resident Aubrey Brooks, who summed up the mood of the wider community still reeling from the mid-August bushfires which threatened homes in the tight-knit community.
“We say this site is now in an unsafe area, and is left wide open for misuse and a target for vandals and fire bugs, not to mention the vermin, drug use and health issues there,” Mr Brooks said.
“There is a large amount of timber scattered around the abandoned building and part of the boarding has been exposed to allow undesirables access inside the building.
“The area is very dark at night as there is no lighting and the areas has become a no-go zone for many frightened residents.
“There is a real duty of care issue here … somebody must be responsible or will that only come into play when a life is lost.”
While some residents say they would like to see the building demolished, previous council correspondence has indicated that the building structure was sound. One future use of the site previously proposed was the development of an aged care facility.
Another resident, Melina McAndrew, said that she first raised the issue with the council in February 2012 where a petition with 2944 signatures was presented to then general manager Peter Gesling.
“The building has become a magnet for vandalism and graffiti,” the petition said.
“The state of the building and the anti-social behaviour it generates degrades our village. If it is not demolished it must be properly cleaned up and made secure in the interest of public safety.”
The council spokesperson said that they were not aware of the possibility of asbestos in the building material.