Circus tent must go, say residents

Observatory residents want this circus tent removed, saying it is a public safety risk.

The red-and-white big top at the old circus school in Observatory must come down because it’s a safety hazard, say residents.

They also want answers from the City about the dilapidated one-storey building next to the tent on City-owned land in Willow Street.

The building has broken windows, broken doors, no working toilets, but people are staying there and the police have raided it several times in the past year.

The issue was discussed at a public meeting called by the Observatory Civic Association (OCA) at the Observatory Town Hall on Tuesday night April 9.

There were about 30 people at the meeting, including about five of the people living at the circus school as well as representatives from the Observatory Community Improvement District.

It was a public meeting, but Observatory residents told this reporter he could sit and listen but not take notes because they did not feel comfortable discussing “sensitive topics” in front of a reporter.

At the meeting, OCA spokesman Edwin Angless said the City had a duty to remove the tent because it was a public safety risk and it was on municipal land. It was agreed in the meeting that the OCA and residents would find a way to bring the tent down if the City didn’t.

“There is also a general consensus amongst the OCA and residents that there should be more engagement with the occupants of the circus school,” Mr Angless said. That included

seeking alternative accommodation for them while making sure more people didn’t move in.

“These are all issues that the City should be looking at, and we have asked City to respond in detail but so far the only response has been that they will be releasing a statement on the circus situation,” he said.

Also at the meeting was Kami Gordon, who stays at the circus school site with her 26-year-old autistic daughter, Jaeli Halls. She said the City had sent her several eviction notices.

“I had to build a structure outside for my daughter and I to sleep in as it became unsafe to sleep in the room as it has been divided into another room by the former landlord for another tenant to stay,” she said.

Ms Gordon claimed that 25 to 30 people stayed on the property.

John Brophy, 38, who has been staying at the circus school for a year, told the meeting that the tent was a great feature for Observatory and he hoped it could be fixed and turned into a heritage landmark.

Greg Booth, who lives on the property with his son, Bobby, said he had complained to the police ombudsman about what he felt was unnecessary force used by the police during raids, the last of which was on April 2.

Woodstock police spokesman Warrant Officer Hilton Malila told the Tatler that the police had received many complaints about the property.

“The place is no longer operating as a circus because its premises are being hijacked by the occupants staying there illegally,” he said.

Police could at any time enter any premises with or without a search warrant according to the Criminal Procedure Act, he said.

Ward councillor Patrick Chapple declined to comment, saying the City was facing court cases over the issue.

Last year, JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security, said people should not be living on the property because the lease the City had signed with the lessee stipulated it could only be used for sporting purposes, including circus training for children. ( “Tenants face eviction,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, June 22, 2018)

In July 2015, about a year before the circus school’s 10-year lease had been due to expire, the City told it to go by the end of the month (“Circus must pack up Big Top”, Southern Suburbs Tatler, July 9, 2015).

At the time the Tatler reported that the land had been earmarked as multi-use field as part of the enhancement of Hartleyvale.

The City did not immediately response to questions.