A heartbeat in the mall

NEWCASTLE’S Hunter Street Mall – in a slump since would-be redeveloper GPT pulled out of its revamp plan in 2010 – has been sputtering back into life.

GPT walked away from its $600million residential, leisure and retail proposal after the former Labor state government failed to cut the rail line as the company wished. In the washup, Newcastle lost a cinema, several shops, the David Jones department store and a number of outlets from the mall’s upstairs food court.

Since then, however, the Renew Newcastle initiative and some small-scale entrepreneurial activities have helped the mall to retain a portion of its former appeal despite a distressing array of persistently closed shopfronts.

News that GPT plans to seek new tenants for 30 empty shops and offices in the mall offers the prospect of more improvement.

GPT recently looked set to sell a block of buildings on the southern side of the mall to billionaire Nathan Tinkler, but that deal collapsed when Mr Tinkler’s Buildev group declared the sums didn’t add up.

The property giant offered buildings on the north side of the mall for sale by expression of interest. Some were sold.

Meanwhile, it is no secret that the state government has been in talks with GPT about reviving some form of redevelopment plan. It appears, however, that the company’s insistence on rail line closure remains the key issue.

While that matter continues to exercise the government, GPT’s decision to re-tenant its buildings seems a safe bet.

If the rail line is cut the new tenants might be keen to line up for spots in any retail component that GPT might include in a revised development proposal.

And if it isn’t cut, the company should find it easier to sell tenanted buildings than empty ones.

In either case, the chief key to a genuine revival is probably affordable rent. If rents are reasonable, business people should be willing to take calculated risks. After all, even in its present doldrums, the mall manages to attract considerable numbers of people who appreciate its appealing location close to beaches and the harbour.

NSW should follow the lead of Victoria and hold an inquiry into decades-old allegations of sexual abuse by clergy.

But it should take the advice of federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and widen the terms of the inquiry to cover all denominations, not merely the Catholic church. And it should seriously consider using a better model than the parliamentary inquiry adopted by Victoria – perhaps even a royal commission.

Hunter people have a special interest in this issue, since a number of regrettable episodes have occurred in this region and allegations of cover-ups – some proven – have been as endemic as direct allegations of abuse.

Although the churches have taken steps to placate some victims of abuse, enough serious disquiet remains to merit a full, frank and fearless inquiry.

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