With the revelation that the government knew what everyone suspected – that the light rail infrastructure was extremely expensive for such a short distance – I am now questioning the legitimacy of the NSW Government, via its Department of Transport in using the State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007, to demolish the entire heritage listed Store building when the section of site containing the oldest parts of the building are not needed for the government's bus interchange.
The Herald published an article that said Colliers International had requested expressions of interest and that in July 2017, the government confirmed the heritage listed building would be demolished by the end of 2018. All this occurred before the closing of public comments on their Review of Environmental Factors (REF). The State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) (ISEPP) was created to allow certain government departments, but not all, to take responsibility for the approval process ‘in-house’ to reduce delays at local government level. The question relates to when is it appropriate to use a government department with access to the ISEPP to use that power to assist a private developer and to undertake the demolition of a heritage item that is not strictly required for government infrastructure?
The Store buildings in Newcastle were the headquarters of what potentially was the largest co-operative in Australia based on the development of the BHP Steelworks, which has played a major role in Australian history.
Su Morley's article (NH 17/8) was right to infer that we are losing our heritage at an alarming rate as more development is focused on the city’s west end. Not far away is the Wickham School of Arts, designed by Newcastle architect Peter Bennett, who was also once mayor of Wickham. This building is disused and under threat of demolition by neglect despite being linked to the early education of Australian literary icon Henry Lawson. The full demolition of The Store buildings should be removed from the REF and only the portions of the buildings removed to enable the construction of the proposed government bus interchange. The rest of The Store buildings should be left structurally sound, secure and waterproof for future examination for the retention and incorporation of this decorative facade and interior detail into a future development of that individual site.
The Transport Minister should review the government bus interchange and demolition of the whole of The Store building site as proposed under the current REF prepared using the ISEPP. Consideration should be given to preserving the Hunter Street portion of the heritage building as the whole of the site is not needed for the government bus interchange. The purchase of the site by the NSW government was to obtain additional land to provide theinterchange. The use of the ISEPP should, therefore, be limited to the area needed only for the interchange. The rest of this heritage site should be subdivided from the interchange site and treated as a separate development area outside of the ISEPP requirements by the private developer who buys the property.
The benefit to Newcastle is the construction of the government's bus interchange as designed and the retention of a listed heritage item that complements and supports other heritage items within the conservation area and immediate precinct.