The National Trust’s Hunter chair, Keith Parsons, has questioned the planning process that approved the demolition of the heritage Store building for a bus interchange and high-rise tower.
The Newcastle Herald reported on Thursday that Transport for NSW had ticked off on a review of environmental factors (REF) for the redevelopment, effectively granting approval for a bus interchange on the site and the Store building’s demolition.
The REF reads, in part, that the proposal is “permissible without development consent” as a result of the “application of State Environmental Planning Policy (Infrastructure) 2007”.
The document makes only passing reference to Revitalising Newcastle’s plans for a building on the site up to 90 metres high.
Mr Parsons said the process effectively made Transport for NSW and Revitalising Newcastle the “judge and jury” on the Store building.
“The Store’s not being demolished for a bus interchange; it’s being demolished to build a speculative, high-rise, residential/commercial tower building,” he said.
“By using the REF – we think illegally, because removing the Store building has got nothing to do with infrastructure – they’ve locked everyone out of the system.
“Normally you go through a DA process and the council would have some say about a building which is listed on the council local environmental plan heritage schedule.
“It’s a pretty disgraceful situation, really.”
The building is listed as an item of local significance on the state heritage register, and Mr Parsons argued its facade could have been retained while allowing for a bus interchange and a high-rise tower.
The REF acknowledges that the “heritage significance of the Store is strongly associated with the history of the Newcastle Co-Operative Society and the community interest and association with the site over the 20th century”.
But it concludes: “For functionality, safety, cost, development potential and constructability issues, the removal of all buildings at the site was chosen as the preferred option for the site.”
Revitalising Newcastle program director Michael Cassel said on Wednesday that the Store building was of social and cultural significance but of limited architectural value.
Mr Parsons disagreed.
“It’s got great heritage value, including aesthetic or architectural. We think its social value is probably state significant, but the REF overrides that as well.
“That building was the largest retail co-operative store building in the southern hemisphere. Newcastle as the centre in the state of the co-operative retail movement.
“We’ve got a development corporation, a property developer, being judge and jury on urban-design value, heritage value. They do it because they can get away with it. It seems no one can stop them.”
Mr Cassel said Revitalising Newcastle had put forward a proposal which had been assessed independently by experts.