THE political battle lines are being drawn over Newcastle’s rail line, just as they were on the other occasions when a new city terminus was mooted.
One thing that makes the debate so vexed is that strong passions on both sides of the argument create a fertile field for political opportunism, obscuring reasoned discussion with the smoke and fury of divisive rhetoric.
But for all that, now that the government has made its decision it must stick to it.
Newcastle can’t afford to waste any more decades to-ing and fro-ing over this single issue.
When one considers previous proposals to trim the rail at Civic and at Broadmeadow, Wickham is probably a reasonable compromise that could, with goodwill, provide most of what both sides want.
Unlike the Broadmeadow proposal, the Wickham terminus option retains a heavy rail station in the heart of Newcastle. It should not be terribly difficult to provide a convenient bus-rail interchange near Stewart Avenue to distribute travellers to all the city destinations they may want to visit.
Wickham should also give those who have lobbied so long and hard for a new terminus almost everything they could have wished for.
Done correctly, the civic re-orientation permitted by the new terminus could mark a turning point for Newcastle.
Barry O’Farrell’s Coalition ought to recognise the immense and lasting political credit it stands to gain if the redevelopment does all it has been promised to do.
The flip-side of that is that the opposition has an enormous incentive to prevent any of those benefits from occurring.
If it wants to earn political points the Coalition must ensure that the change results in little or no loss of transport amenity. That means good terminus design and enough capital and recurrent funding to operate the necessary buses without bleeding the rest of the regional public transport network.
Next, it must take firm control of the planning and development east of Wickham – especially in the Mall precinct and Honeysuckle – to ensure the new city elements that emerge are not just grids of big boxes squeezed together to maximise developer returns.
Newcastle now has a new opportunity to embrace productive change. Squander or abuse that opportunity and it will take decades to undo the damage.
By announcing the new city rail terminus the government has demonstrated it has courage.
Now it must show it also has vision, imagination and a willingness to do some real city-building.