IN a move that will cost Parramatta Council an estimated $60,000 over six months, the NSW Government has been granted a peppercorn rent of $1 to occupy office space in Macquarie St.
In a heated confidential session behind closed doors, councillors were divided 7 to 7 on whether to grant the government’s request for the peppercorn rent on vacant Parramatta Square office space to set up an information office for the planned Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse) Parramatta project.
The casting vote of the Lord Mayor Bob Dwyer got the motion over the line. Labor, Greens and Independent councillors voted against and were gob-smacked that council was prepared to give away money during tight financial times.
But Liberal councillors maintained that the office space, which had been set up as a cafe, was unable to attract a tenant at market value because of Covid-19.
Liberal councillor Steven Issa told the Times that opposition to the proposal was “a disgusting display of politics”.
“Here we have the government investing close to a billion dollars in a museum, as well as the light rail and metro, that will be good for Parramatta and they want to set up an information centre that will promote MAAS,” Cr Issa said.
“This is all about those councillors against this being sore about the relocation of Willow Grove.”
Cr Issa said the council had tried to rent out space at 153 Macquarie St “on at least two occasions”.
However, one of the dissenting councillors told the Times that it was “ridiculous” to presume that a tenant would not be found now that there were brighter days ahead.
“This is supposedly for six months but there’s no guarantee of that. The government could want it for the whole year, or more,” one disgruntled councillor said.
Another councillor said the NSW Government easily ran roughshod over a council-controlled by the Liberal Party.
“They are treating Parramatta as a joke. First, they take the pool for the stadium, then we sell them prime riverside land that council was planning to develop as a well-thought-out entertainment precinct,” the councillor said while emphasising that the Powerhouse would be good for Parramatta, but could have gone on another site that did not destroy historic Willow Grove.
“Councillors who voted for this have to explain to the community why they have given away a prime site for a $1 peppercorn rent,” another councillor said.
“So many of council’s decisions are all about not wanting to tread on Gladys’s toes.”
While the details of the deal were in a confidential session, a furious Cr Lorraine Wearne tried to bring the matter to open council “so the public could see that council is about to give away a prime site for a peppercorn rent”. Her motion was defeated on the Lord Mayor’s casting vote.
Cr Wearne told the Times that the decision, made on the basis of an “incomplete report” from officers that lacked details, came as council was trying to make savings out of the difficult year.