EDITORIAL: City plan remains unclear

URBAN renewal has been the catchcry in Newcastle for the past several years at least, but despite intense discussion and numerous announcements, the vision remains disturbingly unclear.

Community information workshops in the city yesterday may have been emblematic of the problem, with discussion again becoming bogged down on the rail issue.

The government can hardly avoid blame for that.

Repeatedly pushed to make a decision on the rail, the government announced it would clip the line back to a new city terminus, west of Stewart Avenue. 

But notwithstanding assurances that the plan had been carefully thought out, it soon emerged that the proposed terminus site had limitations that may now mean Sydney trains will have to terminate at Broadmeadow.

Newcastle’s civic renewal has been carried for years by the momentum of the Honeysuckle project – largely funded in the beginning by Labor federal governments and sustained ever since by land sales.

Economic and planning results have been mixed, but even overlooking its defects in favour of its many benefits, Honeysuckle must evolve and have its positive elements spread more widely.  

The basic agreed formula for this process revolves around a relative handful of so-called ‘‘catalyst’’ projects. One is the new justice building, which does appear to be proceeding, albeit with some question marks over its adequacy.

Another is the proposed city campus of the University of Newcastle. To its credit, the state has promised $25million for this plan, but only if and when the federal government weighs in.

Still another is the city’s long-awaited art gallery upgrade, but here – despite $7million in firm federal funding for the project – the state can’t see its way clear to contribute.

The Landcom-GPT joint venture on the Hunter Street Mall precinct may be progressing behind the scenes, but any obvious results remain a long way off.

Meanwhile, the government has dropped plans to actively recycle the former Empire Hotel site and it stands accused of continuing to allow the city’s grand former post office to rot in neglect.

It would be satisfying to be able to say with confidence that the NSW government had the measure of Newcastle’s needs and the will to address them.

But that isn’t yet possible.

The O’Farrell government has taken some useful steps, but it will need co-ordination, planning and adequate funds to move ahead. 

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