Moree Plains Shire Council agrees to offer of transfer of former Crown Lands building from Property NSW

HANDOVER: Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall takes the $1 payment from Moree Plains Shire Council Mayor Katrina Humphries and Moree and District Historical Society president Stephen Ritchie at the former Crown Lands building at 40 Frome Street.
HANDOVER: Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall takes the $1 payment from Moree Plains Shire Council Mayor Katrina Humphries and Moree and District Historical Society president Stephen Ritchie at the former Crown Lands building at 40 Frome Street.

The iconic former Crown Lands building on Frome Street will soon be in Moree Plains Shire Council’s hands, after councillors resolved to acquire the historic building at the recent council meeting.

In November last year, it was announced that the NSW government was willing to transfer the deeds of the 130-year-old Frome Street building to Moree Plains Shire Council for the cost of just $1, to ensure the historical treasure remains in the hands of the community, rather than being put up for auction and possible redevelopment.

The agreement was that council would hand over the keys of the building to Moree and District Historical Society to use to establish a Moree Museum. The historical society will act as caretakers of the building, taking on all costs associated with establishing and running the museum, as well as applying for grant funding.

At the most recent council meeting, held on Thursday, January 24, councillors had to decide whether to accept or decline the offer of transfer of 40 Frome Street from Property NSW (PNSW).

As part of the property transfer, PNSW imposed a number of restrictions, stipulating that the registered propriety not use or permit the lot to be used for purposes other than community purposes; the community purpose for the land must be for the primary purpose of being used by the Moree Historical Society as its office and administration venue and a museum open to the public; and that this restriction shall not be removed for 15 years from the date of registration.

The biggest concern for council, as discussed in depth at the council meeting, was that they are unable to reclassify the land as operational. This means that if, for some reason, the historical society folded or was unable to meet the costs involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the building, council would have to take on the responsibility of maintaining the building until the 15 years is up, and wouldn’t be able to sell the property for commercial purposes during that time.

During workshop, councillor John Tramby said he believes the stipulation was added to provide the historical society with 15 years to get established before council can sell it.

“It’s so future councils can’t sell it from underneath them,” he said.

“It gives them that vital protection. If that land was made operational, I believe it could be sold for half a million to a million dollars. 

“I believe the society needs that time and the community needs time to make it work.”

Mayor Katrina Humphries said the risk council takes, if it doesn’t work, is that they’re “stuck” with the building for 15 years.

“Playing the devil’s advocate, if things were to go awry, we can’t flog it, can’t lease it, so we have to operate it ourselves or just mothball it,” she said.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“It was always going to be an issue about the ongoing cost of maintenance to a building that is quite old.

“Is it a punt? Absolutely. But we have to sometimes believe in our community and support what they want.

“It’s been very obvious all along that the Moree community has come out very loud and very clear that they want a home for the beautiful memorabilia they have been entrusted with. I think we have a role to play to ensure that happens.

“There’s an absolute willingness in this room for the Lands building to become a museum and for the historical society to run it. I think we should head in a way today where we do accept the transfer but look at a very tight lease that gives real ownership to the historical society.”

“It’s not like we bought it for a fortune,” deputy mayor Greg Smith added.

“Worst case scenario is that we’d have to maintain the building.”

Cr Tramby moved the motion that council accepts the offer made by Property NSW to acquire Lot 4 Section 42 DP 758706, known as 40 Frome Street, Moree, and that all documents associated with the transfer of this land be executed under council seal.

“History is a very important thing; unless you know where you’ve come from in life, you’ve no idea where you’ve been,” he said.

“This is a golden opportunity to build pride and acknowledge what was done to make what we have today. It didn’t come easy. It was a hard life and we have to remember that and recognise it, record it and pass it on.

“There’s no better building than that building. It symbolises the history of Moree.

“It’s the right place, the right people, so do it now.”

Cr Kerry Cassells seconded the motion, saying a museum will be a great place for young people to go.

“I think this museum is going to be a place of excellence,” she said.

“I can’t wait to get there.”

The motion was carried unanimously.