Questions on the council’s move to the west

NO organisation succeeds by standing still.
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And as Newcastle City Council points out in announcing its administrative move west from Civic to new leased premises at Newcastle West,it had been at other locations before moving to City Hall in 1929. So the move in itself need not be overly controversial. But at atime when the city is in the midst of unprecedented construction-based disruption –and with the council having spent many millions of dollars restoring the iconic City Hall –our local government heads have decided the time is right to move in 2019 to swish new digs in an office block now emerging from the ground at the “gateway” to the city on the corner of Stewart Avenue and King Street at Newcastle West.

Lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and interim chief executive Jeremy Bath made a great show on Friday of highlighting the synergies they said would be achieved by unifyingthe 400 administrative staff now housed in four civic precinct buildings. But theoretical efficiency gains should not be the only parameters looked at in considering such a crucial decision.And what gains are claimed, should be looked at very closely indeed. Mr Bath says the new headquarters will result in a series of improvements –including “increased staff retention and engagement” – that will save the equivalent of $14,000 a year for each of the 400 or so staff involved, an annual saving of $5.6 million on an overall council budget of about $288 million a year.

This is indeed a handy saving, if it eventuates. And yes, the Newcastle Herald is well aware that there have been various calls over the years to do something about the claimed inefficiency of the Roundhouse. But in moving to leased premises in the West End, the council is swapping the certainty of ownership at its present location at Civic for the vagaries of the real estate market.

It must almost certainly end the use of City Hall for council meetings – along with the lord mayoral office and reception area –unless the council is proposing to reverse its “all together” philosophy by traipsing back up King Street for meetings and briefings.

It also undoes decadesof conceptual planning that envisaged the council buildings, the library and the art gallery as key markers of a true “civic” precinct. Ultimately, it may well work. But as things stand, it’s an announcement that has thrown up as many questions as it has answers.

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