Parramatta Council minutes document early concerns for proposed relocation of the Powerhouse Museum – Tom Lockley

Tom Lockley is Convenor of the Pyrmont History Group PHM committee.
He submitted Sections 1 and 2 of this paper to the Committee of Inquiry on 12 September 2017, and has since adapted it to share with others.

Introduction
These pages present clear evidence that a misleading impression may have inadvertently been given by some participants in the 29 August hearing of the Legislative Council Inquiry into Museums and Galleries.

It was implied that the decisions made regarding the Government purchase of the proposed museum site at Parramatta were supported by resolutions of the previous elected council.

This is not the case. It can be argued that the witnesses never said that the previous council approved the selected site, just that its approval only extended to the upgrading of the theatre precinct and the development of the foreshore as a public domain.

Supporting material for this assertion is in two sections:

  1. Extracts from the transcript of evidence of 29 August indicating that the decisions were justified on the basis that they were already approved by the previously elected council
  2. Evidence from the minutes of the elected council that this is not the case. The council was, in fact, clearly opposed to the use of the site chosen by the government.

Section 1. Extracts from the transcript of evidence of 29 August 2017

This session examined the recent decision, announced on 31 July 2107, that the government had acquired the riverside land which is the government’s preferred site for a relocated Powerhouse Museum. The agreement was made with the unelected Council Administrator. During the hearing, the argument was often advanced that the previous (elected) Parramatta Council had already approved the actions taken.

For example, Ms Chadwick, Parramatta Administrator (transcript page 7): … in this matter the views and the resolutions (my underlining) of the former Parramatta City Council are the most important. The previous Parramatta council had in December 2014 endorsed the redevelopment of the Riverside Theatre ..I see that this agreement delivers that upgrade together with the cultural precinct that was anticipated there. 

The Hon Shane Mallard supported the witnesses by such comments as (page 8) the previous council already endorsed that position and was already a decision the council had made prior.

 The Hon. Don Harwin said (page 21) We have now got extensive material back to us on exactly what sort of museum presence the people of Western Sydney want. I am confident that we will be able to deliver on that response. 

 The Hon. Scott Farlow said (page 21) The council has been telling us that since 2014 (ie, stating that the previous council had supported the ‘move’).

Section 2: Material from the minutes of the former elected council 

The material in this section comes from the minutes of the elected council during 2015 and 2016, accessed over the period 31 August to 10 September 2017, from https://www.cityofparramatta.nsw.gov.au/businesspapers

The fact that the council was opposed to the use of the recently ‘acquired’ site for the relocated museum can be seen in  Resolution 16308, 14 December 2015; Resolution 16353, 14 January 2016; and Resolution 16646, 9 May 2016.

The fact that it was discussed at the 9 May 2016 meeting, the last meeting of the elected council, gives clear indication of the importance placed by the elected council on the views expressed.

 Resolution 16308 (Minutes, 14 December 2015)
That Council receive and note the draft minutes of the Riverside Theatres Advisory Board meeting held on 26 November 2015, however Council wishes to disagree with comments in the Minutes under Item 3, Parramatta Culture Arts and Entertainment Plan as it is not necessarily the view of Council that the Riverbank Site would be supported as the preferred site for the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum in Parramatta.  

Resolution 16353 (Minutes, 14 January 2016)
included the following recommendations in Suspension of Standing Orders, re the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum, where’ The Lord Mayor ruled that the matter was one of urgency’. Resolved:

  1. That the Lord Mayor write to the relevant Ministers expressing our community’s concern about the possible relocation of Powerhouse Museum.
  2. That Parramatta City Council, through the Lord Mayor, commence a campaign supporting the possible relocation of the Powerhouse Museum to be at Parramatta Golf Course located near Parramatta High School or at Old King school or the Parramatta Jail site and the reasons therefore.
  3. That the campaign consist of a meeting to be arranged via the state members between the Lord Mayor and the Minister, appropriate correspondence to the relevant local Members of Parliament and an appropriate media campaign.
  4. That the community be made aware of the state government agenda on the Powerhouse Museum.
  5. That it be noted it is imperative that the state government understand that Parramatta City Council has policy and budget approved for the part of River.
  6. That Parramatta City Council outline the money invested through purchase of properties for Parramatta City Council to achieve our vision for our River foreshore.
  7. That it be noted if the government insists or force the location of the Powerhouse Museum on our River foreshore, it will result in a negative impact on Parramatta City Council and its vision as a River City and this is the only parcel of land that our Council can develop and invest in a public domain that will be beneficial to our local residents and business.
  8. Further, that the option of Powerhouse Museum being located on the Riverbank Foreshore will lead to a financial implication for Parramatta City Council and the City.

Resolution 16571, Minutes 11 April 2016 (p22)
‘The Lord Mayor provided details on the State Government’s recent selection of the Parramatta River Foreshore as the preferred site for the new Powerhouse Museum together with advice on the recent meeting held with the Minister for Infrastructure. Councillor Chedid raised concerns that the footprint of the proposal may eliminate Council’s vision for the Riverbank Foreshores and may have an impact on the current Expression of Interest for this area.’
Resolved: That Council staff provide a report on the action that has transpired to date in relation to the relocation of the Powerhouse Museum.

Resolution 16646, Minutes, 9 May 2016 (p22)
At the very last meeting of the elected council The Lord Mayor ruled that a motion to suspend standing orders to consider the Powerhouse Museum and the Riverbank was one of urgency. It was resolved:
(a) That Council write to the relevant Minister referencing the agreement, in principle, that the State Government would design the new Powerhouse Museum within the appropriate Council footprint to ensure that the Museum does not disadvantage Council in achieving its vision for the river and not disadvantage Council’s strategic asset on the site.
(b) Further, that a report be prepared outlining the discussions that have taken place to date.

 (There is no evidence that any such report has ever been made as part of the assessment process. We have been seeking the details of all such discussions for over two years, but cannot obtain them.
There is no other discussion of the project in the minutes of the former elected council. )

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Section 3:
COUNCIL UNDER ADMINISTRATION:
The only occasion the PHM move appears in minutes of meetings under administrator, Amanda Chadwick, appears to be the ‘inaugural’ meeting on 23 May 2016 where she responded to a complaint about the ‘move’ from a former Councillor. (Minutes, p5)
https://businesspapers.parracity.nsw.gov.au/Open/2016/OC_23052016_AGN_AT_SUP.PDF

 MONDAY, 23 MAY 2016
INAUGURAL CITY OF PARRAMATTA COUNCIL ME ETING
SUBJECT   Powerhouse Museum
REFERENCE F2008/04592
FROM Ms Elizabeth Boesel

“I raise questions about relocation of this national icon to Parramatta, and others and need certainty whether these have been raised by staff or former councillors. Museum relocation or mergers in this country have an appalling record which has resulted in significant specimens never being heard of again.
Have any of the following budgetary items been considered in depth?

  1. It seems the last thing to be considered is the specimens which must be tied to their provenance, detailed in incorruptible cataloguing in perpetuity.
  2. To maintain international standards to (1) above, how long will any move take? It will be unlike any other. Each item has to be checked out with its actual shelf/cabinet location, existing and predetermined so it goes immediately to its new catalogued location. No piles of boxes on footpaths.
  3. There could not be a worse site than the Riverbank for any museum and its significant collections. The arch enemy of any collection is moisture and damp. Each category of a collection requires its own precise temperature and humidity control 24/7. So high running costs.
  4. What are the space and funding options for expansion? The current Ultimo location has two major buildings and until recently a rail connection to Central. Thus some maintenance on locomotives could be undertaken at Ultimo. Will there be such a facility in Parramatta? Where?
  5. Who will initiate a design competition? Will the winner be assured of the job? Will any of the designs be pursued? It has happened before.
  6. Who will pay for the competition and the architectural design process?
  7. Architectural firms must be across details of international museum criteria, so who will write the brief for these higher standard specifications and design.
  8. Who will pay for design, construction, detailed outfitting and oversight?
  9. Who will pay for the very, very expensive slow and intensive move?
  10. Who pays for:building maintenance;
  • content insurance – in the stratosphere due to the floodplain site;
  • building insurance – surely astronomical due to the floodplain site;
  • salaries and wages for the highly qualified specialist staff;
  • who pays ongoing maintenance of specimens, cataloguing and further acquisitions? Some items are and will be very large:
  • existing and future offsite storage.

The museum is of national significance and our City must know State Government is and ever will be at law, responsible for its proper relocation, staff remuneration, acquisitions, international standards and maintenance in perpetuity.

Council must ensure specific funds are in every State budget for these basic essentials. Parramatta is outside the geographic area which enjoys the highest percentage of arts and cultural funding so efforts are required to secure perpetual funding across the broad range I suggest. That the unique collections are never threatened by insufficient funding for essential international standards and security. Or the serious impediment of a flawed site. A legal agreement!

Nothing less than a binding legal agreement is acceptable or commensurate with the value and security of the Powerhouse. Full funding encompassing expanding collections and inflation must appear as a single funded item in all State Budgets.

There is no doubting the quality and professionalism of the museum staff but they can only do what the funds allow.

And all this on the wrong site. That open space planned for the many residents who will be coming to Parramatta to live, and those yet to come hordes of tourists and visitors. And the plan for people to just sit and relax on the grass in their lunch hour or leisure time?

I recall my first lecture in economics: similar attractions should be grouped near each other so patronage flows between them. It is called viability! Thank you.”

Response provided by Rebecca Grasso, Director Marketing and City Identity:

“Thank you for raising your concerns in relation to the Museum of Applied Arts and Science’s Parramatta project.

As previously stated in the letter sent to you by the former Lord Mayor on 5 May 2016 the decision to build the new Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Parramatta is a decision of the NSW State Government. The identification of the proposed site is also the decision of the NSW State Government.

The management of the Museum’s collection is the responsibility of the staff of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, who are appropriately experienced to manage the relocation of the Museum’s collection with the utmost care and consideration.

The future vision for the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Parramatta is strategically aligned with Parramatta’s journey to build Australia’s next great city and deliver a world-class internationally recognised and awarded cultural institution for our city’s residents, workers and visitors.”

Minutes: Council (under administration), 27 July, 2017
The following resolution refers to the agreement being negotiated with the state government for the purchase of the Riverside site and negotiations for museum relocation and other developments (later announced on 31 July).
https://businesspapers.parracity.nsw.gov.au/Open/2017/OC_27072017_MIN_430.PDF  (page 7)

10.3 SUBJECT  Heads of Agreement for Arts and Culture Precinct
REFERENCE F2017/01830 – D05154658
REPORT OF Chief Financial Officer
719 RESOLVED (Chadwick)
(a) That Council enter into a Heads of Agreement with the NSW State Government, as contained in draft form in the Council report.
(b) That Council provide direction and delegated authority to the Chief Executive Officer to sign all necessary documents (other than those which must be signed under common seal).
(c) That the Administrator and Chief Executive Officer be authorised to execute under seal, all necessary documents including leases and deeds of agreement. (d) Further, that suitable media announcements (including responding to requests for information) be made outlining all relevant details of the Agreement following its execution by the parties.