Friday, October 17, 2008

Complaint against the Newcastle City Council

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Mr Garry Payne AM Director General
Department of Local Government NSW
Locked Bag 3015 NOWRA NSW 2541

Dear Mr Payne,

Complaint against the Newcastle City Council in requiring a DA for holes to prove Convict Coal Mines at Fort Scratchley and not for new buildings on same site.

Reference is made to Council’s letter dated 26th November 2007 in reply to our Email letter that was sent to the Ward 1 Councillors of the Newcastle City Council and the Lord Mayor concerning a building being erected within the boundary of the Fort Scratchley Historic Site which is Commonwealth Heritage Place situated at 31 Nobbys Rd Newcastle East NSW.

Two buildings recently built without a Newcastle City Council
Development Application or Development Consent

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement resolved to lodge a complaint against the Newcastle City Council with the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Department of Local Government and the Commonwealth Ombudsman at the Council’s action in not requiring a Development Application, planning assessment or Development Consent for the erection of two new buildings at Fort Scratchley. We believe that the Council has been wrong and not evenhanded and transparent in the way it has handled this development. Council’s actions were in contrast to those used when the University of Newcastle was contracted to prove the existence of the 1801-1804 Convict Coal Mines on the same site. The proving of the Convict Coalmines required the drilling of a small hole for a camera in each of three mine adits that had been located by survey and Ground Penetrating Radar. The university was required by the Council to prepare a Development Application and Heritage Impact Statement for these small holes and obtain council assessment and consent.

Remedy requested.
Parks and Playgrounds Movement requests that the NSW Ombudsman and the NSW Local Government Department and the Commonwealth Ombudsman inquire into the Council and Commonwealth actions in requiring a DA and Heritage Impact Statement for the minor activity of drilling three small holes on the Fort Scratchley site and the Council’s actions in not requiring a Development Application, Heritage Impact Statement, planning assessment and consent for the construction of two new buildings on the same site. Council has discriminated against the heritage values of the Fort Scratchley Historic Site and the State Heritage Registered Coal River Precinct SHR 1674.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement as a bona-fide objector, has experienced other examples where due process was not followed regarding officially recognized heritage matters and we believe that the Newcastle City Council has an endemic problem with management of heritage properties and relics. The Parks and Playgrounds Movement is anxious that a new sense of probity is established within the Council Administration so that the new General Manager is not obliged to justify the discriminatory and wrong actions of the past. We would hope that a formal investigation of our complaint at state and commonwealth level will lead to improvements in the city administration and a greater appreciation and better management of Newcastle’s important heritage.

Fort Scratchley is a listed Commonwealth Heritage Place ID: 105333 and is a central feature of the Coal River Precinct NSW `SHR 1674 and widely regarded as an essential heritage and community asset deserving of the best professional management. The Coal River Precinct and associated Coal River cultural landscape is also a potential National Heritage site. Council’s actions in not assessing a DA for the buildings are in contrast to the action of Council taken against the Newcastle University and the geotechnical personnel proving of the Convict mines. Council’s action against the university staff was unprecedented and caused embarrassment to the academic community who had been contracted by the Council to carry out the heritage research.

Newcastle Council required a Development application and Heritage Impact Statement for the 10 cm diameter hole into the Convict mines shown below. Photo 11/10/2008

Council served a Solicitors letter on Dr Eklund and the volunteer professionals who had made their specialised machinery available for the exploratory drilling. We understand that approval had been obtained from the Commonwealth and the State Heritage Office on each occasion when the work was to commence. We know that many more holes were drilled by the Commonwealth on the site as part of the refurbishment and that DA’s and consent were never requested by Council.

Parks and Playgrounds Movement Inc have a longstanding interest and commitment to this historic area as the proposer of the Newcastle East Historic Site in 1968 and are advocates for the establishment of a legal Plan of Management to guide the development of the full precinct. A plan of management for Fort Scratchley and for the wider Coal River Precinct has been in preparation for some time and consent for the buildings in question should have relied on careful coordination and consideration by the Newcastle City Council.

Summary Statement of Significance:
Fort Scratchley and Flagstaff Hill on which it stands are of great historical significance to our nation. It is the site of Australia's first mining of coal, thereafter to be the primary resource of the new settlement of King's Town in the Newcastle district. It is also the site of the first navigational aids to safeguard the flow of ships servicing the coastal ports as well as the inner Hunter River system. From the beginning, the little settlement and its precious coal needed protection, and Flagstaff Hill was the first and a continuing site of a garrison and battery, including the notorious Fort Fiddlesticks and the now Fort Scratchley.

In view of the significance of this Commonwealth Heritage Place and its wider importance to the Coal River Precinct and the Coal River cultural landscape we believe that it is essential that a reasonable and unbiased process be established for the assessment of all developments so that firm trust and propriety is developed between the Newcastle City Council, the Newcastle community, the Commonwealth of Australia and the NSW State Government.

We believe that the listed heritage items and historic relics of the City of Newcastle would benefit from an even handed approach to developments that may impact identified heritage items and relics.

The Parks and Playgrounds Movement request this inquiry in the public interest and would be pleased to place evidence before an impartial investigation.

Yours sincerely,

Doug Lithgow.
Freeman of the City of Newcastle
President of the Parks and Playgrounds Movement.