Post office suffering ‘demolition by neglect’: Suters

THE Newcastle Post Office is supposed to be the jewel in the city’s crown.

But more than a decade after it closed, the grand 109-year-old building remains boarded up, covered with pigeon poo and graffiti.  The basement is flooded.

This state of utter disrepair has prompted one of Newcastle’s most respected architects, Brian Suters, to label the iconic building ‘‘a national disgrace’’.

The state government, which paid $4.25million to rescue the building from neglect more than two years ago, says its hands are tied until the outcome of a native title court case set down for March next year.

But Dr Suters said the state of the post office  was  ‘‘an indictment’’ of all levels of government.

‘‘It’s really demolition by neglect,’’ Dr Suters said.

‘‘Newcastle, a very important city, [has] in the city centre a building that’s a disgrace.

‘‘You wouldn’t find that anywhere else in Australia.’’

On the outside of the building, behind barbed-wire fences, windows are broken and a light dangles below its fitting. In some places the pungent ordure is more than  two centimetres deep.

The Newcastle Herald asked to inspect the inside of the building but NSW Crown Lands refused access.

Dr Suters said he walked through the building last year. He said it was infested with pigeons and the basement was full of water.

‘‘They’ve tried to waterproof the roof but it’s just not habitable the way it is. They need to do a lot of work to bring it up to scratch,’’ he said.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said he spoke with Crown Lands in November and was assured  the post office was secured from the elements and would not deteriorate further while the land claim was settled.

‘‘The government is well aware of [the state of the building] and we’ve done a lot of work behind the scenes to move it forward,’’ Mr Owen said at the time.

The University of Newcastle Alumni Association is formally the government’s preferred tenant, and the Herald understands they have first option on use of the building.

The sticking point on any deal will be the extent of the repairs and maintenance required, and who foots the bill, with estimates believed to be about $10million to $15million.

A Crown Lands spokesman said the university alumni interest in the building was dependent on the outcome of the land claim but  in the meantime they were conducting due diligence and preparing a business case.

‘‘Crown Lands has completed remediation of hazardous materials, repairs to the leaking roof and guttering, plus general repairs and maintenance,’’ the spokesman said.

Little work appears to have been done in the past year.

Information on the Land and Property Management Authority website is now more than two years old.

It says works ‘‘under way at the site’’ are due for completion in 2010.

Dr Suters,  chairman of the trust running nearby heritage buildings that are part of the Lock-Up Cultural Centre, said any future use of the post office must be able to generate income.

‘‘It’s  important  heritage buildings have a commercial reality as well as a community benefit,’’ he said.

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