WHEN discussing the evolution of Newcastle’s new-look coastal complexion it is only fair to acknowledge the former state member, Jodi McKay, who wanted a solution to the problem of decaying oceanfront infrastructure.
Newcastle City Council – criticised for not keeping the pools, paths, fences and other facilities up to scratch – argued that the task was too big and too expensive.
Ms McKay’s proposal was to establish a coastal trust that would receive money from selected commercial enterprises. This money would help support the surf clubs along the city strip and also provide some funding for maintaining and improving public beach facilities. This plan is now starting to show early results, and the signs are good.
Commercial leases are being signed over beachfront kiosks, the council’s ambitious Bathers’ Way project is making progress and people are flocking to the beachfront in large numbers to see and use the facilities already provided.
According to council surveys, up to 500 people an hour are using parts of the Bathers’ Way for walking, jogging and cycling.
That shouldn’t be surprising. People have repeatedly demonstrated how much they value investment in quality recreational infrastructure.
Civic assets such as Blackbutt Reserve and the Fernleigh Track are extremely well-patronised, to cite two examples.
The challenge for the council has always been to find ways to defray the expense of maintaining and managing these assets, and in recent years it has started being more creative and thoughtful about this. Ratepayers will probably always regard their councils with a critical eye, however, and Newcastle City Council has an unfortunate track record of cost blowouts to live down.
Because of this track record the council will need to keep a careful eye on its coastal projects to ensure they deliver reasonable value for money and provide facilities that will suit their purpose.
Critics are questioning the timing of some of the coastal works, suggesting that the colder months would have been better for construction jobs with the potential to interfere with public access and with commercial operations.
Others have expressed concern about car parking, but in fairness, the council appears to be trying to balance practicality with aesthetics, and it insists there won’t be a net loss of spaces. Criticisms aside, the improvements give grounds for optimism. They will enable people to better enjoy some of Australia’s best urban coastal scenery.