284B Ingles St. Port Melbourne

The site of the proposed brothel in Port Melbourne. Photo: Ken Irwin

VCAT's decision to approve a brothel in an industrial park bordering a residential area shows how tensions can rise when the tribunal adheres to planning considerations in determining applications for brothels, which inevitably polarise communities.

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal ''does not consider the morality of a brothel'', a spokeswoman for the tribunal said. ''That has been determined by Parliament.''

The decision to approve the Port Melbourne brothel has gained the backing of some local residents and businesses. But others have said it will put their employees' safety at risk, especially at night, and that restrictions on the amount of advertising displayed on the brothel's exterior do little to allay their fears.

They are also concerned that granting the permit will encourage other applications, transforming the community for the worse just when rising property prices are increasing residential development in the vicinity.

Zak Athanasiadis, the owner of Zax Amusements - an arcade-game wholesale supplier near the proposed Ingles Street development - welcomed the brothel approval, saying it would increase local traffic and could reduce crime.

He said since the closure of Toyota's manufacturing plant in 2006 the crime rate had increased and having a business that traded past normal working hours might reverse the trend.

''More late-night trading businesses in this area would deter potential vandals and criminals,'' he said.

Funda Avan, who lives near the site of the proposed brothel, also saw ''no real problem'' so long as it ''poses no threat to members of the local community, particularly children''.

VCAT recently upheld the City of Port Phillip's decision to let proprietor Michelle Siu Pik Chan convert the former warehouse into a whorehouse.

The tribunal maintained that it would be far enough from schools, hospitals, places of worship and homes to operate without disturbing the community.

Under the Sex Work Act 1994, VCAT could not grant a permit if the land was within 200 metres of a place of worship, hospital, school, education or care service premises, a children's services centre or other place frequented by children for recreation or cultural purposes.

VCAT senior member Jeanette Richards said in the decision just after the tribunal endorsed the application: ''The nearest dwellings are 300 metres away and on the other side of the West Gate Freeway.''

Opponents of the application pointed out that many disused warehouses in the old industrial park were being redeveloped as housing.

VCAT's spokeswoman said the tribunal could take town planning issues into account but ''can't give weight to general community or social concerns about brothels or those who work in them or frequent them''.

A local real estate group, Vision Real Estate, said a brothel could endanger the safety of its employees and customers.

It also voiced concern that the VCAT victory could lead to similar applications.

Approval was granted on condition that any advertising on the building be discreet and not include the word ''brothel''.

The City of Port Phillip declined to comment.

With DUNCAN HUGHES

■This Sunday Age series on VCAT is a result of an investigation by Swinburne University journalism students.