Rail removal seen as ‘game changer’

THE proposed redevelopment of the Hunter Street Mall may not go ahead if the Newcastle rail line stays, the chief executive of Landcom said last night.

Sean O’Toole briefed Newcastle City Council and said the mall redevelopment could be ‘‘the greatest urban renewal project in the country’’.

‘‘I’m not aware of a city that has all of the things going for it that you’ve got here,’’ Mr O’Toole said.

‘‘There are projects that are commercial projects and there are game-changing projects. This is a game-changing project and we need to get it right.’’

But inevitably, he said, the rail line remained a barrier.

Landcom is ‘‘de-risking’’ the project and doing some preliminary work on mine subsidence. A masterplan for the redevelopment will not be developed until the rail decision.

‘‘We’re not spending real money now until we get a decision on the rail line,’’ Mr O’Toole said.

‘‘If we replace the rail line with a better public transport system, and I’m talking about a transport system that links people with the places they actually want to go ... it will inject confidence into the town.

‘‘When you look around at the best cities in the world, they actually utilise the waterfront.’’

Mr O’Toole also said the proposal was time-limited.

‘‘If we get a decision [on the rail line] sooner rather than later that would be great,’’ he said.

Lord mayor Jeff McCloy said the council needed to be ‘‘very, very supportive’’ of the redevelopment plan. Other councillors took issue with the fact that the rail was again being cited as a physical barrier to progress in the city. 

Labor Cr Nuatali Nelmes said it was ‘‘mildly frustrating’’ that the project was supposedly contingent on a public transport plan, and Greens Cr Michael Osborne  said rail would complement the residential aspect of the proposal.

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