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Reg Kidd says Labor should take this off the market and convert it into social and affordable flats

May 26, 2023

The site on Sale Street. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

The former nursing quarters (red marker); the site for the Prince Street apartment development (centre); and the DPI building (right). Google Earth.

By Peter Holmes

Former Orange mayor Reg Kidd is urging the recently elected Labor state government to ditch plans to sell off the former Caldwell House and nursing quarters site bordered by Sale and Dalton streets near the Orange CBD.

The previous state Liberal-National coalition put the site up for sale last year via NSW Health and its Health Administration Corporation (HAC), with tenders closing in December.

Selling agent Colliers told The Orange News Examiner on Friday afternoon that the tender had closed, and offers had been made, but that “everything is on hold”.

The new government could proceed with a sale, or take the property off the market and use it for other purposes.

Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Which is where Reg Kidd comes into the picture. As the weather cools each winter, his blood starts to simmer.

Kidd is irritated that vacant buildings in the Bloomfield hospital grounds and the former nursing quarters near the DPI building haven’t been transformed into social and affordable housing.

“The amount of bloody houses we’ve got with no one living in them,” he said.

“Don't use [asbestos] as an excuse. My sister-in-law did her nursing there and lived there. There is a huge amount of parking and it could be modified into flats.

A view from the car park at the former nursing quarters. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

“And you drive out around Bloomfield hospital and have a look at the amount of double and triple storey buildings with double brick tiled roofs sitting there just being vandalised.

"There is a great skeleton - you could do something and refurbish. But it's all bloody chatter. Keep talking about it. Nothing's been done.”

He said that towards the end of his time as mayor he held a housing forum attended by the state housing minister, social housing group Housing Plus and other potential stakeholders, and pushed for the nursing quarters to be made use of, but was repeatedly told that asbestos made this unfeasible.

“I don’t accept the gobbledygook that says they've got asbestos in them, it's too expensive to do that,” he said. “Well, hold on. There are people all over Orange and all over Australia that are doing renovations to their houses. And they’ve got fibro in them.

“I was born in Frederica Street, Orange. Whole house is fibro. If you decide to cover it it in brick or whatever and start taking the fibro out, it’s got to be managed properly.

Asbestos warning. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

“Bureaucracy feeds people gobbledygook to scare the shit out of them. Duntryleague has asbestos, so does Croagh Patrick, some of those nice homes around Byng street.

“Many houses in Orange would have asbestos in them. It can be managed. Think of the suburbs in Sydney where they built homes post the Second World War, they've all got fibro.”

Kidd said that “every day there is a story on social housing and affordable housing, and there are homeless people in this weather, and we have all these vacant properties that could be turned into flats”.

He believed previous state governments let the old nursing quarters slowly fall into disrepair ahead of putting it on the market.

“The new hospital has been there for years, and the nursing site has just sat there. You look at the amount of parking, and it’s central for people who don’t have a car, walk to shopping and services.”

A view from the car park at the former nursing quarters. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

Caldwell House is circa 1937 and became the subject of a legal dispute between Orange City Council and the state government.

In July 2020 Orange City Council rejected a development application by the what was known then as Health Infrastructure (now HAC) to demolish the building, arguing it could be saved and "the unstable asbestos in the building would have to be dealt with whether the building was demolished on not".

At a hearing in February 2021, the Western Regional Planning Panel ruled in favour of Orange City Council, and recommended to the NSW planning minister that the building be saved.

In September 2021 the DPIE (now the Department of Planning and Environment) on behalf of the minister requested the WRRP reconsider the application to demolish the building.

The result of this consideration was announced in October 2021.

The WRPP said its decision "provides for remediation and demolition of Caldwell House".

However it said "the Panel has a view that Health Infrastructure should not immediately proceed to demolition of Caldwell House".

Health Infrastructure had made it clear it did not want to carry any residual risk to people's health once it had disposed of the building.

Despite this, "the Panel nonetheless encourages Health Infrastructure to provide a further and final opportunity to identify any third party that has the motivation to fully investigate the remediation and retention of Caldwell House".

The Colliers listing for the site did not go into detail of the fracas over Caldwell House.

"The property offers a conveniently positioned irregular shaped allotment with wide street frontages to Sale Street (78 metres) and Dalton Street (80 metres), improved with the former Caldwell House and Nurse’s Quarter occupying a total consolidated area of approximately 3,446m²."

Fire stairs. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

"The former Caldwell House represents a unique development opportunity ... The underlying ... zoning allows for a range of diverse development options including boarding house, centre-based childcare, information and educational facilities, neighbourhood shops, places of publish worship, residential flat buildings, respite day care centres, senior houses, and tourist accommodation."

Following the WRPP decision Kidd, who was mayor at the time, said: “If the property was properly secured against vandalism and theft when it was first vacated we would not be facing demolition today. The way this has been managed by a public authority sets a very poor example for private owners.”

Kidd said he supported council’s move to look at turning land near the Southern Feeder Road into social and affordable housing, but said modifying older properties would give a “quick bang response”.

“It would be a start,” he said.

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