POLL: Hunter St stuck in the slow lane

ALMOST two years after adopting plans to save the decaying Hunter Street, Newcastle City Council has not spent a cent of a $3million fund allocated to the project.

Work to revive the city’s iconic main street – described by shop owners as ‘‘grotty’’ and ‘‘grubby’’ yesterday – has stalled while the state government completes its urban renewal plans for inner Newcastle.

But, having waited since December 2010 to begin the roll-out of priority projects from the Hunter Street Revitalisation Masterplan, the council said yesterday it would now push ahead ‘‘to get some quick runs on the board’’.

‘‘What we’ve decided to do is we’re not going to wait any longer,’’ the council’s future city director Judy Jaeger said.

The Hunter Street masterplan was one of nine key projects listed as being ‘‘behind target’’ in council budget review documents tabled last week. Delays have been blamed on the state government’s failure to release its State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) for the city, originally due in February 2012, and uncertainty about plans for the heavy rail line.

But new lord mayor Jeff McCloy and Newcastle MP Tim Owen said yesterday the hold-up at state level was no excuse for the lack of progress on certain aspects of the council’s plans.

‘‘We need to work out what works we are going to do, tell the state – and the state can stick its nose in or choose not to,’’ Cr McCloy said.

‘‘Waiting on a blasted SEPP is not the answer. ‘‘Footpaths can be tiled, garbage bins can be put in.’’

Reversing years of decay on Hunter Street was a key plank of Cr McCloy’s successful election campaign. He went to September’s poll with suggestions to implement angled parking, one-way traffic, wider footpaths and to beautify the street. 

Cr McCloy said yesterday that residents had also ranked the revitalisation project as their top priority during consultation about a rates increase. ‘‘Why aren’t we taking that extra rates money and doing what the ratepayers have told us to do?’’ he said.

Mr Owen admitted that council progress had been hampered by the unfinished SEPP.

‘‘To a degree they [council] are right, but I think there are plenty of things they could be doing for Hunter Street that aren’t all about [the SEPP], such as trees, seats, streetscaping,’’ he said.

Mr Owen said the SEPP was closely linked to other major projects and decisions on the urban design of the city.

‘‘It, and the decision on rail line, has a level of effect on what GPT and Landcom are doing in the city with their project,’’ Mr Owen said.

Ms Jaeger told the Newcastle Herald a $3million revitalisation fund, set aside in 2010, had not been touched by the council.

Despite this, the city has completed some related projects from other funding sources, including lighting improvements and the construction of a new toilet block in the Newcastle Mall. Mine subsidence mapping and technical design work, which will be used as the basis for future public domain improvements, have also been completed.

Works proposed to commence in the short term include temporary footpath extensions, ‘‘installations’’, projects to activate shopfronts and an overhaul of signage around the city.

But the council insists that much of the physical work needed on Hunter Street cannot be completed until decisions had been made by the state.

‘‘What we’ve got to be careful of, if they say there’s going to be a cycleway lane or a dedicated bus lane, is that we don’t want to be putting public domain in and ripping it out again,’’ Ms Jaeger said.

‘‘A lot of Hunter Street is really dependent on that whole issue around transport.’’

Carolyn Gawn, who owns Hunter Street boutique Ritzy Fashion, said she had welcomed revitalisation plans in 2010 but had since grown frustrated with the lack of progress.

‘‘We just seem to be the forgotten land here,’’ Ms Gawn said.

Her business is near the corner of Darby Street, on one of the most run-down looking stretches of the long main street.

She said the Newcastle Mall had frequently sapped attention from the rest of Hunter Street as GPT Group redevelopment plans were cancelled and then revived.

‘‘It all seems to be about the mall,’’ Ms Gawn said.

More parking and regular cleaning were the top of her priority list.

‘‘[Hunter Street] is grotty, it’s grubby, I come here of a Saturday and there’s vomit on the doorstep.’’

The Hunter Street Revitalisation Masterplan will eventually cost the city $17million. It identified about 45 revitalisation opportunities, many of which required long-term planning. About 20 were ‘‘place making’’ projects that former general manager Lindy Hyam described as a ‘‘quick win’’ for the city.

The plan included concept designs showing a removed inner-city rail line, single-lane roads and landscaped street-fronts.

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