MEDIA RELEASE Rethink Second-Rate Civic Court Proposal

Newcastle Greens Ward 3 candidate and heritage spokesperson, Keith Parsons, strongly concurs with the findings of the consultants to the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) that the proposed new courthouse  is ‘the wrong design on the wrong site’ and welcomed today’s news that the project for a new court complex at Civic may be abandoned.  He called on the State Government to consider as an alternative, the revitalisation of court and justice facilities in the existing legal

The current proposal was a pork-barrelling exercise by ALP and Liberal state election candidates and ignores its  devastating economic impact on the Eastern CBD precinct that contains our historic and quite viable legal precinct. Council management are also culpable. They have put asset management and their desire to sell off a difficult-to-market, Council-owned vacant site over sound planning principles.

“Council’s arguments that it will create new jobs and economic benefit are spurious” said Mr Parsons. “The only employment creation would be short term construction jobs. Existing court employees would simply transfer to a new site,  resulting in no net change. Any positive economic impact in the Civic/ Honeysuckle  area would be negated  by the negative impact in the struggling eastern precinct, including Hunter Street Mall”.

“There has been a little-known proposal on the government books for decades that would deliver new facilities at the existing site for much less cost than the current proposal. I’m reliably informed that the current project is also  likely to significantly blow out from the existing $94 million figure. And all for a building that exceeds planning controls like height and provides less than acceptable facilities”, said Mr Parsons.

“An existing scheme to refurbish the state heritage- significant 1890 courthouse, retain  the award winning and refurbished 1960s court building, demolish the 1950 court registry and replace it with a state-of-the-art facility has great merit.

It would save tax-payer dollars; allow the existing legal precinct that has housed justice facilities from the early twentieth century to continue and provide a much needed  economic boost to the historic eastern CBD.”

Mr Parsons added “Additional justice facilities in the neighbouring 1980s police station, while retaining a police presence and relocating police headquarters to a new site, closer to the area’s population centre, should also be considered. This  may also be in the long term interests of both the Attorney General’s and Police departments. And there’s a vacant land on the Bolton Street Legacy House site that could house a new facility.

The only loser in the short term would be Newcastle  Council acting as  a property developer. They would need to market their now-vacant and remediated site, or perhaps consider it  for  new administration facilities they have long claimed to need. The other losers would be property developers who have been eyeing off the existing court site for some time.

We don’t want our iconic 1890 courthouse turned into a hotel or a facade for yet more speculative apartments. We shouldn’t be closing a building whose interior is also heritage listed simply because of rat infestation and poor air conditioning. It would be relatively cheap and simple to solve these problems. Historic courthouses throughout the state are still functioning and viable. The Supreme Court complex in Sydney CBD has buildings dating back to the 1820s that are still viable and in use.”

Mr Parsons called on the government to heed the report to the JRPP and completely rethink the project.  “It’s not too late for the government to go back to the drawing board in the interests of the economy of the eastern CBD, sound planning principles and an acceptable heritage outcome in the much-loved, historic heart of our city”

Keith Parsons.  49265301.

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