The old Merewether Henny Penny: everything we’ve learned

“EYESORE”: The old Henny Penny site at 54 Ridge Street, Merewether. OUR story last week about the old Henny Penny site in Ridge Street, Merewether evoked a few fond memories, some exasperation and a couple of useful answers.

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Just to recap, we’ve become quite obsessed with the site at 54 Ridge Street –which over the past 13 years has fallen into a state of disrepair – and decided to use our week on Topics to dig forsome answers.

A search of the Fairfax digital archive came up with two news items from theNewcastle Heraldin 2003.

“THE soaring cost of residential land in Merewether sawHennyPenny’s first fast food outlet, atRidgeStreet, Merewether, close its doors last weekend,” the articleread. “The 1968-built outlet had become an institution for beach-goers. The site is still owned by a director ofHennyPenny, a member of the Steggles family, who is understood to be turning the land to town house use.“A spokesman forHennyPennysaid the outlet had been renovated a number of years ago and needed a further upgrade and the land value was now so great it was not practical to spend the money needed to retain it.”

Then, a few weeks later, somewhat of a clarification from the owner, who unhelpfully asked not to be identified.

“A RECENT item on the closure of theHennyPenny chicken outlet inRidgeStreet, Merewether, has brought a response from the site’s owner,” the December, 2013 item reads. “The owner, who asked not to be named, said the site had pre-existing use rights for a commercial/retail/food operation and she would be interested in leasing it for the purposerather than a residential redevelopment.”

But since then nothing seems to have happened and the building–which appears to be in a prime location – has slowly decayed.Over the last week or so we’ve been contacted by heaps of people who wanted to talk about the old Henny Penny site.

Those we spoke to, or who corresponded via email, fell into a few distinct categories.

Those frustrated that, for 13 years, they’ve had to look at an ugly building on a vacant block in what is one of Merewether’s most commonly used streets.

“That horrible mess which is what remains of the Henny Penny outlet in Merewether is a disgrace to the owner and a blot on the suburb’s landscape,” one reader said.“I have written, in the past, to council to ask if they could stir things up a bit, but they told me theyconsidered it was bring properly maintained and could do nothing about it. “Maintained???

“I really hope you can produce some results; maybe even shame the owner into action.”

Others had fond memories of lining up to buy the family dinner from the busy suburban fast food restaurant.

“I remember it was always busy, always popular,” one woman said.

“There wasn’t any other takeaway restaurants around that area, so it would be really well patronised on a Friday night.”

Or they could remember even earlier than that, when the site at 54 Ridge Street was home to a service station.

“I grew up in Ridge Street in Merewether and prior to that site being a Henny Penny outlet it was a Golden Fleece service station in the early 60’s,” Damian O’Connor said.

“Fond memories! I hope this is of help.”

But most people, like us, were just curious, or perhaps confused as to why the site was never developed, never fixed up, never utilised.

It’s a good-sized block –588 square metres –in a sought after area that, according to the Department of Planning and Environment, is zoned for low density residential.

A conservative estimate from property experts put the value of the block in the $1.5 to $2 million range.

We did asearch on the property with NSW Land and Property Information (LPI), which revealed the name of the company that owns the site.

A search of thatcompany with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC)gave us the director’s name.

Despite the calls above to “name and shame”, we don’t think that’s appropriate, not without speaking to the director [which we haven’t been able to do yet].

So we won’t reveal either of those names here.

But we can say that the company that owns the site is a trustee for a superannuation fund.

A call to Newcastle City Council revealed a few historic building applications.

One in 1990, which was described as “alteration and additions to shop [earthquake]”.

The other, in 1994, was simply labelled “alterations and additions to food shop”.

And that was it.

No development applications since 1994 and nothing currently lodged with the council.

Our best guess is that the owner is land banking –sitting on the property and waiting for the value to go up.

Which it has been for the last 13 years.

But for those who want to see the site revitalised, or at least utilised,you might have to wait a bit longer.