A planned move by the New South Wales government to relocate the iconic Powerhouse Museum from its innercity foundation to the western suburb of Parramatta has provoked a backlash from crowds and local government officials at a protest rally.
The rally drew an impressive crowd of passionate community advocates voicing their strong opposition to the Mike Baird government’s plan to sell off the cherished site to property developers, in what protesters are regarding as one of the most “outrageous” land grabs in the history of Sydney.
The move would mean re-locating the Powerhouse Museum, which has stood at its existing Ultimo location since 1988, to Parramatta under an ambitious plan announced in November 2014 by Infrastructure NSW to revitalise Parramatta as a “cultural precinct”.
The state government has shrewdly used the planned sale of the exiting Ultimo site as a way to pay for the move, with the expected return of $150 to $200 million from residential developers expected to cover the expensive moving costs.
Infrastructure NSW even acknowledged that the site itself is “highly valuable” in its November 2014 report, which is expected given the continually mounting property values in Sydney, which has made house hunting in the innercity a nightmare for prospective home buyers.
At the rally, City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore delivered an impassioned plea for the state government to reverse its stand in selling off the Powerhouse Museum site.
In her urgent call to keep up the momentum against what she called “cultural, social and economic vandalism”, Ms Moore said the case needs to be argued for its significance to Sydney in economic as well as cultural and social terms.
Ms Moore strongly recommended to the government that the move isn’t necessary, not only because of the Museum’s cultural significance to the area, but because there are about 50,000 more items in storage at Castle Hill that could form the core of a “Powerhouse West” at Parramatta.
That’s only “if the reason for selling the site truly was to do something for western Sydney”, according to Ms Moore.
She made it clear that the City supports the expansion of cultural facilities in western and south-western Sydney – “the two are not mutually exclusive”.
It is not the first time the NSW government has come under fire over controversial land grabs.
In March 2014, the City of Sydney and activists with a vested interest hit out at the state government over a plan to sell off of prime CBD waterside public housing assets, including 293 properties in habourside Millers Point, Gloucester Street and the Sirius building in The Rocks.
The pattern was similar to the Powerhouse Museum debacle, with the government looking at the sell off as a potential opportunity for high returns to offset the maintenance money pit they had become.
The properties at Millers Point recently sold for $5.43 million.