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Your courthouse will just have to go: minister

The historic Redfern courthouse will be shut down by early next year because it is unworkable, lacks security and is too expensive to upgrade.

Sydney's Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, the Redfern Legal Centre and other community groups have expressed dismay at what appears to be part of a grand plan to tidy up the area without consulting local stakeholders.

Councillor Moore said it was a "very early example of the Heritage Act not applying, not having to consult, and how local disempowered people will be further alienated" under a controversial $5 billion redevelopment plan for the area.

The Department of Lands will "dispose of the building", according to a memo by the NSW Attorney-General, Bob Debus. The memo was obtained by the Herald yesterday.

The planned disposal was first raised by the Attorney-General's Department in September.

Cr Moore - also an MP whose Bligh electorate covers the Redfern area - and the local groups had not been informed of the closure before being contacted by the Herald yesterday. The memo from Mr Debus was then faxed to Cr Moore's office.

It says: "Following the decision of the police to discontinue use of the adjacent police station it will no longer be appropriate to operate the local court at Redfern."

It says that one of the "main disadvantages" of keeping the court open is that "it is a heritage-listed building with extensive difficulties in providing upgraded custody facilities".

The memo also cites security concerns associated with the planned relocation of the adjacent police station, "inadequate public waiting areas", and an "inability to provide perimeter and court room security without significant costs".

"[Arrangements to dispose of the courthouse] will take into account the sensitive heritage nature of the building and its furnishings," it says.

The single-storey 1896 courthouse, valued by local real estate agents at between $1 million and $2 million, is listed with the National Trust and on the Department of Environment and Heritage's National Estate list but is not on the state register.

It is heritage-listed by the City of Sydney, but under a plan by the Energy Minister, Frank Sartor, for the Redfern-Waterloo area the Government would have sweeping powers to demolish public housing, override heritage laws and defy the council.

A spokeswoman for Mr Sartor said the closure has "got nothing to do with us at all".

A spokesman for the Attorney-General's Department said the court did not have enough work for its six staff members on the two days a week that it sat.

Yesterday, a sign on the front door of the court read that a "staff shortage" meant some matters would not be processed.

The spokesman said that Bowral Local Court was "underutilised" and would also be closed.

Elizabeth Morley, of the Redfern Legal Centre, said the closure appeared to be "connected with the overall thrust" of the redevelopment plan, even if that did not entail "pulling down the courthouse to build a block of apartments".

Ms Morley said a department claim that domestic violence victims would be better protected at the Downing Centre was incorrect.

By Natasha Wallace SMH December 9, 2004