With the Government seemingly intent on selling the Newcastle Courthouse, we submitted some information requests to obtain information about the opaque process to date – that has run over-time and over budget.
The documents received show this incredible building has been valued at only $6.6 million which is extraordinary given the size and location – “the people of NSW are losing a beautiful historic building and in return, some developer is getting a bargain … right in the heart of the city.”
The complete documents obtained can be downloaded from here.
THERE are fears Newcastle’s old courthouse could meet a similar fate as the city’s post office, with the iconic building sitting idle more than 12 months after it was due to go under the hammer.
Questions have also been raised over a $6.6 million price tag put on the building, with Labor and the Greens warning it should not be “flogged off” cheaply at the taxpayer’s expense.
The government department tasked with auctioning the courthouse – Property NSW – has refused to explain why the process is now more than a year behind schedule and has run over budget.
The delays have sparked an internal feud with the Department of Justice; which was kept in the dark about the hold-up, even though it has been forced to bear the additional costs of keeping the building on its books.
Shadow Minister for Finance, Services and Property Clayton Barr said he feared the fiasco could see the courthouse go the same way as the post office, which was once one of the city’s proudest buildings but is now rat-infested, storm damaged, a home to squatters and in a state of decay.
“This is not a slight on the Awabakal Aboriginal Land Council but the whole journey of the Newcastle post office has been so sad,” Mr Barr said. “We don’t want to see it become the same journey for the courthouse.”
Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws by NSW Greens Justice spokesman David Shoebridge show the courthouse has been valued at $6.6 million, with the net proceeds from the sale expected to be around $4 million.
However it is unclear where those funds will end up, with Treasury denying a Department of Justice request to keep the full proceeds.
The people of NSW are losing a beautiful historic building and in return, some developer is getting a bargain…right in the heart of the city.
The 5237 square metre precinct is just 200 metres from Newcastle Beach and includes three separate buildings and car parking.
The courthouse was originally erected in 1890, with an eastern wing constructed in 1947 and the addition of a western wing in 1965.
It held its last sittings in January this year before the opening of the $90 million new courthouse on Hunter Street in February.
Mr Shoebridge said given the size and location of the property, it appeared “the people of NSW are losing a beautiful historic building and in return, some developer is getting a bargain … right in the heart of the city.”
But an industry source told the Herald the site would prove “tricky” to develop because of heritage orders protecting the inside of the original building, along with a height limit of 10 metres, the equivalent of three storeys.
“Usually you would look at a site like that and say ‘you beaut’, because of the floorspace,” he said.
“You could normally knock it down and get 70 to 80 units out of it. [But] because of the state significance, you would have a lot of trouble gutting it.”
He valued the site at anywhere between $5 and $10 million.
“A religious organisation might want it,” he said. “The government might look at it, as it adjoins James Fletcher Hospital, which is absolutely substandard. The educational community could use it for classrooms.”
Internal emails between Property NSW and the Department of Justice show the auction of the courthouse was originally slated to happen in July 2015.
It was initially delayed while the Heritage Council approved a management plan for the site, but by October that document had been finalised and senior Department of Justice bureaucrats were pressing Property NSW over where the sale was at.
“[The Department] is getting a little concerned that we will not achieve the sale of the property before Christmas 2015 – how are we tracking against that target?” one email read.
In December, Property NSW decided to push the sale back to 2016 due to a lack of “project resources” and “complexities on the site”. But it did not inform the Department of Justice, which found out about the decision through media reports.
“It would have been good to provide the notice to Department of Justice, of a changed sales program, prior to the matter being canvassed with the press, so that our executive was not caught unaware,” Department of Justice Project Director Angelo Petraccaro wrote in another email.
“Could Government Property NSW please provide reasons why the sale is now proposed to be delayed to 2016 and provide the proposed sale program.”
An internal briefing note showed the building could become subject to an Aboriginal land claim because it was on Crown land and had been left “vacant or unoccupied” for a period of time.