New court plan may be dumped

NEWCASTLE’S new courthouse could be scrapped before a brick has been laid, with an independent assessor recommending that plans for the $94million project be rejected.

Criticised from day one for being the wrong design on the wrong site, the planned seven-storey structure would create ‘‘unsatisfactory traffic impacts’’ because of a parking shortfall of 115 spaces, a report to the Joint Regional Planning Panel states.

The report will be discussed at a panel meeting next Thursday at City Hall.

To read The Herald's opinion, click here.

The plans provide for 25 basement car parks for judges, magistrates and selected staff as well as 42 bicycle spaces and seven on-street motorbike spaces.

‘‘The significant shortfall in parking provided [including parking for disabled persons] will not meet the demands for the facility and will have unsatisfactory impacts on the surrounding street parking and public parking network,’’ the report states.

‘‘The parking deficiency is therefore considered to be a significant issue with respect to the proposal and impacts to the city centre.’’

Newcastle MP Tim Owen agreed there was not enough parking in the area, but he said the government had met its commitments by providing the 25 spaces and it was not the state’s job to build a car park for the council.

‘‘I’m disappointed that we’re in this position,’’ he said.

‘‘I think that what they’re saying is that they are looking for off-street parking and they want the state to pay for it.’’

Mr Owen said the government would negotiate if the panel rejected the plan.

The assessor took into account six submissions that objected to the plans for a variety of reasons including the lack of parking and the negative impact on the Church Street courthouse and its surrounds.

That impact would extend to other agencies such as Legal Aid, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and police, all of which are within 100 metres of the current courthouse.

The Newcastle Bar Association and Law Society have repeatedly expressed concerns that the new building would not have enough space for meeting rooms and offices as well as the 10 courtrooms and two tribunal rooms that are proposed for the Hunter Street site.

Despite these criticisms, Mr Owen and Attorney-General Greg Smith have continued to support the development after the site was selected by the former attorney-general John Hatzistergos three years ago.

The report notes that it is government policy to encourage the use of public transport, but the government is yet to decide on whether the rail line, including Civic Station across the road from the proposed courthouse, will be cut.

The government has spent several million dollars buying the site from Newcastle City Council, commissioning architects to design the building and demolishing the Fred Ash Building.

A company is reinforcing the site underground, which is affected by mine subsidence.

The current courthouse is about 120 years old and has been extended and modified over the years.

It has numerous problems including a lack of space, chronic air-conditioning failures and vermin.

A canopy was recently erected above the path to the courthouse cells to capture pigeon droppings that previously coated the path.

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