Australia Post to sell historic Sydney building to foreign buyers despite heritage concerns

Writer: Sarah Hawke
Published Date: June 1, 2017
Source: ABC Australia

The historic GPO building in Sydney’s Martin Place is set to be sold to foreign buyers, despite concerns from heritage consultants.

Australia Post has confirmed the sale of the remaining freehold title has been approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board and is pending signoff from Commonwealth Heritage.

About half of the building was sold in 1997 and a 99-year lease put in place for the remainder.

That lease is held by Hong Kong-based developer Sino Group and its sister company, Singapore-based developer Far East, which also owns businesses on the existing freehold title, including a hotel.

The ABC understands a deed for the sale of the freehold title was reached in March with Sino and Far East in a deal worth about $150 million.

“The transaction will free valuable capital to invest in our people and our services to the community without any impact on the continued operation of heritage protections,” Australia Post said in a statement.

The heritage-listed GPO was opened in 1874 and a post office will continue operating there under a lease until 2096.

National Trust says ‘don’t sell’

The sale has been described as “outrageous” by president of the National Trust in New South Wales Clive Lucas.

Dr Lucas is a consultant with Lucas, Stapleton and Johnson, which compiled a 300-page heritage report for Australia Post ahead of the sale negotiations.

The report warned against selling the GPO to overseas interests saying it was a significant loss from a heritage perspective.

Dr Lucas said the post offices were a principal building of significance to cities and towns.

“I think lots of people are very against us selling our heritage, selling the family silver and there’s nothing more important to Sydney than the Sydney GPO – it’s the heart of the city,” he said.

“The report done by the office, we were told we had to keep it secret and perhaps fair enough, but the report clearly said they shouldn’t do it and of course they’ve done it.”

The report recommended higher levels of mitigation measures to protect its heritage value although it is not clear what that would include.

Australia Post said the heritage measures would be maintained.

“The entire building remains heritage protected, an important factor when considering the sale,” it said in a statement.

CEO of the Far East Organisation, Ms Lay See Shaw, told the ABC the new owners would be guided by all relevant state and federal heritage laws and regulations for any future development proposals for the building.

It is understood the sale will not have any impact on the salary or bonus scheme of CEO Ahmed Fahour who is stepping down in July.

He was criticised over the size of his salary which is worth $5.6 million.

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