Hillsong takes case for all-hours church to higher authority

The Sydney Morning Herald/July 21, 2011

Hillsong's loss of faith in the City of Sydney has it heading to the Land and Environment Court.

The Pentecostal megachurch is seeking the court's approval to spend $1 million converting an Alexandria warehouse into an auditorium-style church for 1100 people, but it could come up against a ban on places of public worship in industrial areas being proposed by the City.

The development application, lodged with the council in January, proposes to transform part of Sydney Corporate Park on Doody Street into a ''place of public worship'' open 7am to 10.30pm, seven days a week.

Hillsong said in a statement that it had reluctantly lodged an appeal with the court after it had failed to receive a timely response from the council. The matter is set down for hearing in September.

"Hillsong Church believes there is still an opportunity to negotiate with Council to avoid unnecessary costs to both parties," it read. "It is our understanding that Council's issues relate primarily to traffic and parking."

The church, which has twice sought to find another location to take pressure off its large Waterloo congregation, is one of several denominations unhappy about a proposal to ban places of worship in industrial areas.

In a move designed to preserve industrial zones as "employment lands", the City of Sydney has included the ban in its draft local environment plan, the document that will control development for the next decade.

"This is in line with state government direction and the actions of other local councils including Marrickville and Auburn," a spokeswoman said.

Hillsong, the Salvation Army and the Australian Christian Churches group have written to the council demanding it drop the ban.

Peter Alward from the Salvation Army called the ban "inappropriate and unwarranted and ... not justified on strategic planning grounds", and John McMartin, from the Australian Christian Churches, group said the peak operating hours of churches were complementary to industrial areas.

"Despite popular belief, churches are continuing to be established throughout our nation with growing vibrant congregations," Mr McMartin wrote to the council.

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, told Christian leaders before the state election that the proposed ban on churches in industrial areas was "bizarre".

"I'm not quite sure what the rationale is - that is often a common thing with some local councils - but I'm happy to look at it and I'm happy to ensure that common sense prevails because that just doesn't make sense to me," he said.

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