END OF AN ERA: Newcastle City Council meeting in City Hall on Tuesday night. Councillors voted to move the chambers to its new offices in Newcastle West.Newcastle councillors are spending $12.5 million restoring City Hall. Then they’re moving out.
The councillors voted on Tuesday night to shift their meeting chambers to the council’s new offices under construction in Stewart Avenue, Newcastle West.
The council revealed last year that it would spend $7 million moving more than 400 stafffrom the Civic area into the new offices, but the future of the chambers had been up in the air.
The councillors’ decision on Tuesday to join staff inthe new “Gateway 2” building will come at a cost.
It is understood a confidential report to the council on Tuesday night referred to an $800,000 fit-out of CentralCoast Council as being indicative of costs, although lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it “might not cost that much”.
The council kept the cost confidential on Tuesday, but the debate and the vote were held in open session.
Greens councillor John Mackenzie,Liberal Brad Luke and the four Independentsargued against moving the chamber but were outvoted by the Labor bloc.
Cr Mackenzie described it as “hard to justify”and an“indulgence”and told the Herald before the meeting that the cost was “absurd”.
“City Hall means something symbolically and culturally and historically,” he said. “It’s not just a place where we have meetings.
“When you make a decision to move from a City Hall to an administrative building, you’re saying something very clear about the nature of local government and what you think a council is for in the life a city.If you think it’s an administrative function, then by all means move to an administrative building.”
He said holding meetings and hosting dignitaries at City Hall was an important symbol of the city’s “gravitas”.
Several of the dissenting councillors feared City Hall would become a “glorified function centre”.
Cr Nelmes said the existing council chambers were used only two per cent of the time, but the new chambers would be in a room which the community could use when the council was not meeting.
She said it was more practical for her office and staff to be in the same building asadministration staff.
She agreed with Cr Mackenzie that City Hall’s heritage must be preserved and successfully moved that the council should “start the process to protect City Hall and the council chamber on the State Heritage Register”.
The council spent $5 million restoring City Hall’s clock tower in 2015-16 and by early 2020 will have spent another $7.5 million on its sandstone exterior.
The council has signed a 15-year lease at Gateway 2. Councillors will hold meetings inthe new chambers from February 2020.