EDITORIAL: Time for council to act

TO be fair, some reluctance by Newcastle City Council to commit large sums to an overhaul of Hunter Street would be understandable.

A lot of uncertainties are hanging over the old strip and it might seem only sensible to wait until some of those issues are clarified before doing too much work or making too many bold plans.

With a new elected council and a new lord mayor, however, there is a sense of impatience in the air. 

A compromise is being discussed, under which the council will start work but make sure anything it does won’t be made redundant by the bigger changes – when they come.

That’s probably a wise approach. Some cosmetic work ought to be possible while the other major issues are debated and resolved.

Among those major matters are the new court building, the Landcom/GPT joint venture on the Hunter Mall, the state government’s proposed over-arching Newcastle planning document and the long-running issue of the heavy rail line.

Some of the effects of the known impending changes ought to be easily predictable.

The new court precinct development, for example, will present big transport and parking challenges. And although the response to those challenges will be dramatically affected by the rail decision, it should be possible for council planners to map out strategies for the most likely scenarios.

Apart from parking, the dramatic change to the way the Civic precinct is used will create important business opportunities in surrounding areas that the council should be thinking about. 

It would probably be risky to spend too much money or effort on the mall area while the GPT/Landcom plans remain unknown. But the council ought to be seeking opportunities to have input to those plans. It is far better versed in the history of the precinct and should have a role in ensuring that what is proposed is sympathetic to the existing urban fabric. 

Hunter Street from, say, Crown Street east has tremendous heritage appeal and this should not be sacrificed merely to maximise development profits.

In short, while the council’s reluctance to move too soon is understandable and probably wise, it ought to be seeking substantial input to each of the big decisions that are set to change the city. 

And even as things stand, enough is known about likely changes ahead to enable the council to make some judicious spending decisions to improve Hunter Street now, in line with what elected councillors and ratepayers want.

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