OPINION: City’s heart needs less talk, more action

MAITLAND has been the fastest growing inland city in NSW for many years.

It boasts a population of 75,000, its popularity indicated by the increasing demand for residential development, from Thornton in the east, Lochinvar in the west, Gillieston Heights to the south and Bolwarra Largs to the north.

Maitland’s prime location underpins its attractiveness. The influx of new residents each week is proof of this.

Rapid growth doesn’t come without  pressures on infrastructure and the demands for diversity by the community. 

That focus is now on Maitland’s central business district.

The revitalisation of this district is a complex task as it has many elements: inner city living, a retail and a hospitality sector that is thriving ... all gaining the maximum advantage of using the benefits of the riverfront and  the vacant space above the shops for shop-top living.

The redevelopment of disused, boarded-up and derelict buildings for residential use and the construction of new apartments and an inner city motel have all fallen victim to  debates about height, unbelievable heritage conditions on buildings approved for demolition and excessive delays.

It has rendered the developments  Millions  have been lost to the city, not just in developments but also in the hundreds of jobs and the confidence in the business sector, all in the most valuable real estate in central Maitland

A good indicator of the problem is the fact that not one unit has been built on the river for the past 60 years and all the approved applications have failed to materialise.

Yet the disused, boarded up, dilapidated buildings stand as a monument to the neglect.

It is of major concern to me that development in all these areas has been lost to our city, yet we boast about our aim of increasing the population in the CBD by 2500 and encouraging the building of 1300 new residences, and emphasising the importance of people to revitalise the city.

One of the major issues we now face is investor confidence as all those approved development applications that fail to be built come at a substantial financial penalty.

Gaining their confidence again will be no easy task. 

It will be less about talk and more about action.

Without their interest and confidence nothing will be achieved.

Maintaining past attitudes will only jeopardise the viability of the business sector, deny the choice of city living to those who seek it and the words ‘vibrant city centre’ will never apply.

On a pleasing note, council at its last meeting unanimously supported a notice of motion “that councillors will be now briefed on all development applications in the CBD soon after lodgement, outlining the proposal and indicating upfront if there any issues”.

This will eliminate the criticism levelled at councillors that complying development applications  can be modified to 

such an extent to make them unviable without the councillors’ knowledge.

This is a positive step: that at last a confident outlook for the city is a reality. With common sense, the ‘Can Do City’ will be just that.

Arch Humphery is a Maitland City councillor.

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