Costs, design and history questioned as Councillors debate redevelopment of Henry St site

The old Council Chambers building in Penrith. Photo: Megan Dunn.
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Plans to redevelop the former Council Chambers at 131 Henry Street into high-rise commercial premises have been scrutinised, with Penrith Councillors questioning the concept design and costs.

Late last month, a majority of Councillors voted to progress the lodgement of the Development Application (DA) to define planning certainty for the site, but not before a lengthy discussion about preservation of heritage items and DA costs.

Councillor Kevin Crameri refused to support the motion, saying it was “a disgusting thing to the people of our past”, especially to demolish the “iconic” foyer.

“I feel that what we are doing is wiping out any special things in Penrith just for redevelopment,” he said.

While Councillor Greg Davies was “not unhappy” with the modern design, he was critical of the lack of details regarding the protection of specific heritage items.

According to the report, “the history of the site is proposed to be celebrated through a robust heritage interpretation strategy, which includes the reuse of building elements and high-quality public domain features”.

The new design for 131 Henry Street.

Cr Davies labelled this a “great motherhood statement” and said it wasn’t good enough.

Penrith Mayor Karen McKeown confirmed the historic mosaic tiles in the foyer would be retained. Meanwhile, Councillors Jim Aitken and Mark Davies claimed the report was “light on” with regard to risks and costs.

“There’s not one number, not one figure in this report,” a frustrated Cr Davies said, who pointed out even the costs to prepare and submit the DA were omitted.

Councillor Ross Fowler was in favour of progressing the previously-estimated $55 million project, which Council has dubbed a “catalyst development”.

“Whether we actually build it or someone else builds it or we on-sell it to a developer, I don’t know,” he said.

“That decision will be made later, but at the moment we have a concept, we have a proposal to go ahead with that concept, but we’re not committing ourselves to any money other than the DA application fees.”

The building when occupied by Penrith City Council in the 1960s. Photo: Penrith City Library.

Councillor Kath Presdee sought information on how Council is informing the current tenants of the progress of the redevelopment, and what assistance it will offer the community groups if they are required to move.

A capital expenditure review will now be provided to Council for consideration.

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