Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Letter To ALP Members

Dear Secretary,
We write to correct misleading impressions about the Lawson Old Community Hall (aka Mechanics Institute) that may have emanated from the ranks of ALP BMCC councillors who have consistently voted with Liberal councillors to demolish the hall

These councillors are staunchly rejecting Phil Koperberg’s efforts, following substantial community feedback, to save the hall. They first voted (with the Mayor using an extra casting vote) to demolish the hall despite huge public support for an option to relocate it, arguing that it would be too expensive.
Mr Koperberg then negotiated with the RTA and the Minister for Roads to save the hall with a different plan that would be far cheaper, and presented it to Council. Council now demands that the State Government pay for the most substantial upgrade of the hall if they are to accept the plan.

It seems some councillors keep finding new reasons to prevent saving the hall, and misleading impressions may have been given to support this resoluteness:

False assertion: The RTA owns the hall.
The RTA does not own the hall. It did resume in 1988 a minor portion of the land where the hall stands – from the front of the block to a point in line with the first internal wall. $200,000 was subsequently provided in compensation to help fund the Mid-Mountains Community Centre. However, legal opinion disputes that the RTA also owns the equivalent minor front portion of the hall itself, but rather that this portion (along with the bulk of the hall) remains in the ownership of Council as Trustee for the public.

False assertion: The RTA wishes to demolish the hall. It is out of Council’s hands.

The RTA does not wish to demolish the hall. Encouraged by Mr Koperberg, the RTA and Minister for Roads responded to the overwhelming percentage of submissions from a broad cross-section of the community to the Council’s Plan of Management process, advocating that the hall be saved. The RTA revised its plan so the highway could avoid the hall after the RTA relocates the portico at the side, at no cost to Council. The portico was not a feature of the original 1903 structure. As a bonus the RTA would return the resumed portion of land so Council could again be trustee of the entire block. The decision on whether this new RTA plan should go ahead rests entirely with Council.

False assertion: The RTA has submitted a DA to demolish the hall.

The RTA has submitted a plan to save the hall. A recently-exhibited DA to demolish the hall was submitted by Noel Bell Ridley Smith & Partners acting on behalf of Council, the owner. Council is waiting for a public submissions report.

False assertion: It would be too expensive for Council to save the hall.

Of three options costed by Council in relation to the new RTA plan, at least one of these options would be cheaper than demolition.
Further ongoing savings would be made by allowing the Youth Centre back into the hall, as the Council has been needlessly paying $300pw to rent alternative accommodation for years because it closed the hall, and from the Brook Theatre Group which has offered not only to undertake remedial work associated with POPE standards, but also pay a regular rent to Council to use the hall.

We encourage you to verify this information with the Senior Project Development Manager, GWH Upgrade, RTA, Blacktown (PO Box 558 Blacktown NSW 2148 or call 131782). He and his project team may well be concerned.

Our hall…
  • was built by the community in 1903 with stone reclaimed from the Lawson railway station, to provide education for the working class
  • was the site of the first shire council meeting provided community recreation including library, roller skating rink, picture theatre and dance hall
  • was part of the landmark WW1 Hitchen’s Coo-ee rally
  • has brilliant acoustics, perfect for performances
  • is heritage-listed
  • is unique in the Blue Mountains and one of the few remaining Mechanics Institutes in NSW

    The Blue Mountains was named a “City of the Arts”. Where is Council’s associated vision? The plan for a Cultural Centre in Katoomba is bereft of performance space. How irresponsibly unsustainable to demolish a fine existing facility!

    The Lawson hall should be respected not only as an excellent performance space but also as an important part of the heritage of the development of social community values, values that incidentally helped constitute Labor’s platform. If all Labor councillors support saving the hall, the history of nation building by the working class represented by the hall could be preserved for future generations.

    Councillors should not be in the business of obfuscation to suit themselves. The community is appalled that some of them, including two of the four Labor party members, appear willing without any logical basis to bend over backwards to demolish this historic and valuable community asset.

    They also voted in favour of spending millions for town centre redevelopment that includes further demolition of heritage buildings, to make way for parking. Questions are constantly being raised about the propriety of the process particularly with the current press concerning Wollongong Council.

    Ultimately Lawson’s heritage could and should be a major issue for candidates at the coming council elections to put forward their positions on, so voters can decide. Meanwhile any potential candidates who may seek to bend the truth to justify their opposition to emphatic community sentiment should be treated with caution at the very least.
    We hope this clarifies a number of matters. Thank you.