The proposed sale by Australia Post of Sydney's historic GPO building to private business is "scandalous" and puts the complex at risk of neglect, according to the head of the National Trust NSW (NTNSW).
Architect and NTNSW branch president Clive Lucas, who specialises in restoring historic buildings, said the GPO was one of, if not the most, important colonial post offices in the country.
"I think it's scandalous that such an important building in such an important city should be sold off in this way," Lucas said on June 1. "A nation that forgets its history is a nation that has no future.
"I think lots of people are very much 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.
Singaporean developer Far East Organisation is reportedly in the process of buying part of the Martin Place heritage site for $150 million. FEO already owns nearby property and leases part of the interior of the GPO for retail and restaurant use.
The controversial sale has received no objections from either the federal or state governments, and has since been approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB). It only awaits a final go-ahead from Commonwealth Heritage.
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore has slammed the planned sell-off: "I'm deeply concerned about the circumstances surrounding the decision to sell off the GPO," she said. "This Victorian-era architectural and artistic masterpiece — the equivalent of the Sydney Opera House in 19th Century Sydney — is unquestionably one of the most important heritage properties in Australia.
"A building such as this should be preserved in public ownership with ongoing public access and a publicly endorsed conservation plan to protect it."
Malcolm Gunning, president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, questioned the secrecy surrounding the sale of the building: "Why wasn't the GPO put out to public tender?" he asked.
He said there was a probity issue as the building wasn't publicly sold and he questioned whether Australia Post got value for money. "I think you could say it doesn't stand the pub test very well — $150 million for a prominent building in Martin Place sounds a bit cheap," he said.