POLL, VIDEO: Train line to be cut at Wickham

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NSW Government video: Revitalising Newcastle

EDITORIAL: Decision on city railway 

Rail argument seems old as line itself

PLANNING Minister Brad Hazzard has unveiled the government’s plan to revitalise Newcastle this morning, as community and civic leaders react to the decision to cut the rail line.

Above, a video excerpt of the unveiling.

Lord mayor Jeff McCloy said at a press conference that the announcement would halt ‘‘30 years of decay’’ on Hunter Street.

‘‘I mentioned to the minister this morning that I think it was a fantastic decision,’’ Cr McCloy said.

‘‘In time, if you take photographs of Newcastle now and Newcastle in 10 years time, you will see what an amazing change has happened in the city.

‘‘I have spoken to four developers on four projects already, talking about the excitement in Newcastle and I think you’ll find those projects will be starting now.’’

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said it was a ‘‘great outcome for the city’’.

‘‘It is about urban design with the best transport option and I think it will be one of the most beautiful urban designs you will see in any harbour city around the world.’’

The Greens and Labor have criticised the rail decision.

Greens councillor Michael Osborne said the city needed better public transport, not ‘‘windfalls for developers.

"The decision today delivers cuts to public transport not improvements,’’ Cr Osborne said.

‘‘You cannot cut the spine of the public transport system and expect improvements.’’

Lake Macquarie mayor Jodie Harrison (Labor), criticised the government for spending $120 million to tear out infrastructure, when they committed only $15 million to the transport interchange at Glendale.

“The State Government’s priorities on the transport needs of the Hunter are clearly wrong,’’ Cr Harrison said.

Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said it buses should not be a long-term solution.

"Removing the line will hold Newcastle back,’’ she said.

‘‘Infrastructure NSW's tunnel vision of winding back public transport and replacing with more roads and motor vehicles is 70s era thinking and it will be a disaster in the coming decades.’’

Opposition leader John Robertson will hold a press conference near Newcastle Railway Station to respond this afternoon.

Earlier report: Train line to be cut at Wickham

NEWCASTLE’S struggling city centre is set to undergo a major transformation under new plans the state government will kick-start with $120million.

Heavy rail services will  end at a new Wickham interchange west of Stewart Avenue, frequent bus services will  replace trains, the rail corridor will  remain as public space and eight new links across it will  be created to connect the inner city to the waterfront.

Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard will visit Newcastle today to outline the government’s plan that he said is an end to the indecision that has held back the centre of the state’s second biggest city for decades.

Removal of the city’s ‘‘Berlin Wall’’ would trigger a wave of private investment, he said yesterday.

‘‘This announcement will be a shot in the arm for all of those doubting Thomases who have wondered whether they should put their money into Newcastle,’’ Mr Hazzard said.

‘‘Although the government work to be done is still considerable, and has to be done with careful consultation with the community about the Wickham interchange and the bus services for the people of Maitland, and the Upper Hunter and Lake Macquarie, there’s no doubt that the bulldozers and the cranes will be arriving in Newcastle within the next 12 to 18 months.’’

The heavy rail tracks between Wickham and Newcastle are expected to be covered over rather than ripped up, as part of transport changes that  will  take about three to five years to implement.

The $120 million  will  come from Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund and its Restart NSW fund, as revealed by the Newcastle Herald  last week.

The O’Farrell government  will  ask the federal government to contribute another $100 million to the project. 

Mr Hazzard said quiet and positive initial discussions had already taken place.

Government development agency Landcom would also begin work immediately on plans for redeveloping the city centre properties it owns with the GPT Group.

Landcom chief executive Sean O’Toole said last night its redevelopment could be worth about $600 million.

The state’s urban renewal strategy would also foster precincts in the city through changes to planning controls, with the aim of injecting 12,600 new residents and generating up to 10,000 jobs by 2036.

Newcastle MP Tim Owen said the plan was ‘‘what local residents have been fighting for in Newcastle and shows the Hunter is now well and truly on the map’’.

‘‘The strategy will bring a new energy and focus to deliver the 21st century city we all deserve,’’ Mr Owen said.

Mr Hazzard declined to give a figure for the overall cost of the transport works, which would depend on further planning work, the remediation needed for the rail corridor and the final construction process the government selected.

‘‘We have some figures in mind and we understand that the entire package may be considerably more than the initial outlay,’’ Mr Hazzard said.

‘‘But as we’re putting a lot of the work out to the private market it would not be in taxpayers’ interest if we were to go disclosing those figures at this time on the basis that private companies  would work to the upper limit.’’

Projections done for the former Labor government put the total cost at up to $500million, including significant contingency estimates.

Mr Hazzard said the O’Farrell government was also open to light rail along the corridor ‘‘in the fullness of time’’.

‘‘The intent is on an interim basis to deliver a far better transport option [than heavy rail] for residents by using buses,’’ he said.

Transport for NSW would  consider timetables and other matters and look closely at options for the most appropriate property for the Wickham interchange.

Consultation  with residents and other interested parties would begin  by March 17.

THE FUTURE

■ Heavy rail to end at Wickham transport interchange, west of Stewart Avenue

■ Tracks between Wickham and Newcastle expected to be covered over or filled in

■ Direct buses to replace trains between Wickham and Newcastle, but light rail possible in future

■ Former rail corridor to remain in public hands

■ Eight new links across corridor to connect the city to the harbourfront

■ $120m committed for further planning work and starting the project

■ NSW government to ask the federal government for a further $100m

■ Upgrades of Hunter Street Mall and Wheeler Place

■ East End would be retail, entertainment, leisure and residential precinct

■ Civic area would be main educational, civic and cultural hub

■ West End to be the future commercial hub

■ Improvements around Birdwood Park and Cottage Creek

■ Planning of Landcom and the GPT Group’s city redevelopment to begin now, with work maybe to start  2014

Wishlist needs budget

THE state’s new long-term infrastructure and transport blueprints  earmark the need to invest in coal communities and speed up trains between Sydney and Newcastle.

But funding has yet to be committed to the projects, with the government to examine in more detail whether the projects are feasible and release a five-year budget plan with the next  state budget.

Yesterday, Premier Barry O’Farrell and Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian released  the final versions of a long-term transport masterplan and 20-year infrastructure strategy.

It included the government’s response to an infrastructure plan drawn up by independent advisers Infrastructure NSW that proposed $2.5billion be invested in Hunter projects, including that $500million be spent improving infrastructure in coal communities in the next five years.

The new transport masterplan said Hunter bus services would be enhanced in the short term.

In the medium term, the government would continue building the Newcastle inner city bypass road.

In the long term, it would consider building the F3 link to Raymond Terrace, ‘‘how best to reduce impacts of freight movements on centres such as Muswellbrook and Scone’’ and would plan for the Hexham-to-Fassifern rail bypass of Newcastle.

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