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Archives left offer on shelf, claims owner

Date

David Ellery

A Canberra property company has cried foul over allegedly being sidelined in the $100 million debate about the National Archives of Australia redevelopment.

John Tokich, a director of Springrange Pty Ltd, is irate Archives staff repeatedly told the public works committee his company's Greenway, Tuggeranong, facility would not be available after 2017 because of ''development plans''.

Mr Tokich said Springrange had only begun investigating other uses for the building, and an adjoining vacant block, after the Archives knocked back the chance to buy them for $15 million last November.

The opportunity is still on the table and the Archives is welcome to renew the lease beyond March 2017 when the current lease options expire if it so desires, he says.

The Archives repeatedly said in its submission to the committee it would ''relinquish'' the Greenway property come 2017 due to Springrange's ''development plans for the site''.

The impending loss of the facility was used to support the Archives' bid for a $100 million, three-stage project that would, among other things, fund the development and subsequent long-term lease of a 150-person, 114-shelf-kilometre preservation facility in Vicars Street, Mitchell.

Mr Tokich said the Archives had cherry-picked the information it put forward about Greenway to present Mitchell in the best light.

The Greenway facility, built by the Commonwealth for the Archives in 1990, holds 39 shelf kilometres of documents. It passed into private ownership in about 2000 and was bought by Springrange in about 2004. It has apparently only ever been used by the Archives.

The public works committee was not told the Archives could have bought the asset as recently as last year and that the option to do so still existed. Instead, attention was focused on the three-part plan that involves commissioning a private-sector developer for the brand new Vicars Street facility, a major redevelopment of the existing 35-year-old, 65-shelf-kilometre preservation building in Mitchell and an upgrade to archive facilities at Chester Hill in Sydney.

Public works committee members have already lowered the boom on the Archives' plan to roll over the fitout cost of Vicars Street into the lease payments at an additional cost of more than $30 million to taxpayers.

They have said that if Vicars Street goes ahead the Archives should seek the $21.3 million fitout cost from the federal government up front.

Fairfax Media has asked Regional Development Minister Simon Crean if he will be running with the committee's recommendation.

The Archives has defended its decision to tell the public works committee Greenway would have to be vacated come 2017 while failing to disclose the property had been offered to it for $15 million - $6.3 million less than the cost of fitting out Vicars Street.

A spokeswoman said that when, in June last year, the Archives had sought expressions of interest from the open market for a suitable site in the ACT for a new preservation and storage facility, Springrange offered the Greenway site.

''The Greenway site was deemed not to be the best value for money,'' she said. ''The National Archives' current lease of the Greenway building expires at the end of March 2014. The lease also contains three one-year options that can be exercised after that time. Due to the risk of the building not being available after that period, and because the landlord has indicated he has alternative development plans for the site, the Archives intends to allow the lease to expire in March 2017 in line with the scheduled occupation of the new building [in Mitchell].''

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