LIMITED access will be restored to a pair of important BHP memorials just weeks before the 20th anniversary of the steelworks closure at the end of this month, the NSW government and Newcastle council have confirmed.
But the long-term future of the wire fence around the "Muster Point" site remains unclear, with the government and the council each saying it was the other's responsibility.
The 1999 Muster Point and a "mourning circle" built for the steelworks centenary in 2015 were shut behind fences in late 2016 when government contractors did ground-works on the site while repairing the nearby former BHP administration building.
After months of negotiations, the government is letting the council use the nearby BHP "roll shop" building to store concrete barriers and portable fencing used in the annual Newcastle 500 Supercars race. Access to the sculptures is part of the agreement.
The deal has been welcomed by the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association, which will have keys to locked gates used to enter the site from now on.
Read more:Honour the BHP fallen
But Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, who began questioning the government over the loss of access soon after the fencing went up, said the decision to retain the fences, possibly permanently, was a disgrace.
"The historical association does good work up there but it's not good enough to give a key to the group to open it when they want to," Mr Crakanthorp said.
"They are important pieces of public art and a lot of people did visit them and would visit them again if the area was properly opened up as public space. Property Minister Melinda Pavey wrote to me to say the agreement would 're-establish public access', but the way it is happening is disingenuous and whoever is responsible needs to get the fence down and the area open."
Steelworks identity and Muster Point tour host Aubrey Brooks, said he was glad there was some access to the site, especially with the anniversary coming up.
"But they have to be the only memorials in the country with a permanent fence around them," Mr Brooks said.
Heritage association president Bob Cook said he understood the calls for the site to be fully reopened, but he said the vandalism, rubbish-dumping, prostitution and drug use that took place across the heavily wooded area before it was fenced off was a major problem.
In written responses, the council said "long-term arrangements" would "be determined by Property NSW as the owner", while Ms Pavey's office said "removal of the fence is now at the discretion of" the council.
BHP's Newcastle steelmaking plant shut its doors on Thursday, September 30, 1999, and 20th anniversary events will be marked at various places this month.
On Saturday, September 28, the annual BHP reunion, organised by Mr Brooks, will be held at Carrington Bowling Club.
On Sunday, September 29, and Monday, September 30, the historical association will have the Muster Point, the memorial and the circa-1914 Delprat's Cottage open for inspection between 10am and 3pm both days.
NSW government and Newcastle City Council statements
In a recent letter to Tim Crakanthorp, Property Minister Melinda Pavey said she had been advised that Property NSW had begun negotiations with Newcastle council in April this year over a licence agreement for the site.
Ms Pavey said the arrangement was in place with the council agreeing to re-establish public access and to maintain the site.
She said the council had begun work with the community to ensure the site was ready for the 20th anniversary.
"Property NSW will continue to work closely with the council to ensure the site is appropriately accessible and maintained, and I hope that the arrangement now in place for the memorial site meets the needs of your local community," Ms Pavey wrote in the signed letter.
In response to questions about the arrangements, Ms Pavey's office and Newcastle council provided written answers, reproduced here in full, with the sentences on site access in italics.
The council response arrived first.
It said: "City of Newcastle has entered into a peppercorn lease arrangement with the NSW government for a portion of the former BHP site at Mayfield.
"Among the many things the site will store will be concrete barriers and fencing for the Newcastle 500.
"The new location presents a significant commercial opportunity to the city, in that it will provide greater storage capacity and far better value for money than the existing storage area at Waratah. [This is understood to refer to the council depot in Turton Road].
"Interim access to the memorial and muster point will be managed by the Newcastle Industrial Heritage Association.
"Access will be provided at their discretion for the purpose of conducting tours and inspections.
"The long-term arrangements for the memorial and muster point will be determined by Property NSW as the owner of the entire former BHP site."
The response from the Property Minister's office was: "Property NSW has reached an agreement with Newcastle City Council to facilitate access to a portion of the former BHP administration site to support the V8 supercars event.
"As part of that access agreement, Newcastle City Council has agreed to re-establish public access to the memorial and to undertake ongoing maintenance of the memorial and the surrounding area in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the closure of the BHP Steelworks.
"Removal of the fence is now at the discretion of the Newcastle City Council as part of the assessment."
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