THE HERALD'S OPINION: Queens Wharf tower to come down, says council

NEWCASTLE’S landmark foreshore tower turns 30 next year, and as a birthday present, Newcastle City Council has elected to tear it down, kicking off a debate in the process.

One councillor, Independent Kath Elliott, has spoken out about the decision to proceed without consultation, saying it was “outrageous” that the council would move on something as “significant” as the tower without talking to people first.

According to the council’s website, the tower decision was first debated in a confidential session, but with the confidentiality since lifted, some detail behind the council’s reasoning has become publicly available.

A recommendation to demolish the tower was first made by the council’s asset advisory committee on October 12.

Council papers show maintaining the tower has cost more than $765,000 since 1999, including $458,000 for a full repaint that year. Future costs to 2021 total $1.6 million, the bulk of this being $1.2 million for a full repaint in 2021.

But council officers say the changing face of the city centre is another reason to demolish. The original design – with its bridge to the Hunter Street mall – was about “creating a linkage between the foreshore and city centre”.

But with the footbridge and the rail line both gone, the “original design intent has been significantly altered”. In its place we have an open plaza joining the mall, the Market Street lawn and the tower area. The papers acknowledge the tower’s “iconic” presence on the Newcastle skyline, while recognising “a wide variety of public opinion” on its “aesthetic value”.  Add a “significant urine smell”, vandalised viewing glass and the chance of climbers falling off the outside, and it’s not surprising the council officers recommended its demolition. Or that the councillors agreed.

So where too from here? Although plenty of respondents to a Newcastle Herald poll opposed the tower coming down, it’s difficult to imagine this becoming another Laman Street figs fight, as Cr Elliott suggested could happen.

Various calls have been heard over the years for the tower’s removal, and although the demolition job will not come cheaply, its loss is unlikely to be lamented for too long. The question is, will a push to reconfigure Queen’s Wharf follow, while Newcastle revels in development fever?

ISSUE: 38,662.