Australia’s NSW State to Sell Sydney Heritage Buildings

Australia’s New South Wales state government will sell two of Sydney’s most significant heritage buildings in a second round of property sales as it works to return its budget to surplus.

The three-story, sandstone Lands Department building, completed in 1892, is one of the most outstanding surviving Victorian buildings in Sydney, the state government said on its website. The Department of Education building, completed in 1914, is an important example of Edwardian architecture, it said.

The state in June forecast a budget deficit of A$329 million ($301 million) for the fiscal year that began July 1 following a A$374 million shortfall in the previous year. Its net debt is forecast to rise to A$15.72 billion by June 2014 from A$13.03 billion in June 2013, according to the state’s budget papers.

“The divestment of these assets reinforces the New South Wales Government’s commitment to only owning strategic assets that support core government service provisions,” Acting Minister for Finance and Services Andrew Constance said in an e-mailed statement.

Vacant land at Macquarie Park in Sydney’s northwest and an office building in George Street, in the city’s center, are included in the second tranche, which follows the government’s A$405 million first round of property sales earlier this year.

The state government expects interest from local and international investors, Constance said.

Architects Opposition

The sale is already meeting some dissent. The Australian Institute of Architects opposes the sale of the sandstone buildings as they should remain in public ownership given their significance, Joe Agius, the New South Wales chapter president, said.

The Lands Department building has been described as the third icon of Sydney after the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, Agius said.

“It is short sighted of the New South Wales government to sell the buildings and not really consider the opportunity cost for future generations,” he said in a phone interview.

A period of due diligence is under way to assess all options that maximize the value of the buildings for the government, Constance said. Expressions of interest will be sought later this year.

“The sandstone buildings in Bridge Street have the potential for a range of uses,” Constance said. Current heritage and planning controls for the two buildings will remain in place, he said.

Macquarie Capital, the investment banking arm of Macquarie Group Ltd., is advising the government on the sale, Constance said in a phone interview.