Work begins on new Lake Macquarie town

Construction work has started on the largest housing project in Lake Macquarie, with high hopes it will revive the Hunter building industry.

In starting the 2500-lot project, developer Keith Johnson has overcome the global financial crisis, near bankruptcy and a reluctance from banks to finance major subdivisions.

‘‘I’m trying to kickstart the Hunter housing market,’’ Mr Johnson said of the project, which he values at $1billion.

‘‘For every new house built, nine jobs will be created.

‘‘There will be 22,500 jobs over the life of the project.’’

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Lake Macquarie mayor and MP Greg Piper said yesterday he was pleased the project had advanced.

‘‘It’s an important part of Lake Macquarie City Council’s strategy to accommodate the growth we knew would occur in southern Lake Macquarie,’’ Cr Piper said, adding that the site was ‘‘well situated, close to services, shops and the F3 freeway’’.

Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said the project was good for the Hunter and NSW.

‘‘For too long these big projects have been only colours on maps, but to begin real development is what this state needs,’’ Mr Johnson said.

‘‘NSW is well behind other states for housing starts.’’

The name Watagan Park is a nod to the nearby mountains, to which the site has views.

The Hunter’s top civil construction firm Daracon is building infrastructure on the site, readying the first 48 lots for sale.

A dozen lots will go on sale from July 8 with prices to be under $169,000 a lot.

Mr Johnson said before the financial crisis those lots would have sold for up to $250,000 each.

He said the drop in value would be a boon to first-home buyers, along with the Liberal government’s announcement a fortnight ago of a $15,000 grant towards new homes.

‘‘This will give young families a good opportunity to enter the market.’’

Mr Johnson said his development would have larger lots than standard.

‘‘We’re bringing back backyard cricket,’’ he said.

Mr Johnson said he would work with leading Hunter builders to provide ‘‘many choices’’ of homes that land buyers could build.

He said the project would include building standards to maintain quality and people’s investments, but the standards would not be onerous. The land will have water, sewer, natural gas and National Broadband Network connections.

Johnson Property Group reached agreements with the state government and Lake Macquarie City Council to contribute $130million towards community infrastructure.

Mr Johnson said triggers were built into the agreements so infrastructure would be built as certain amounts of lots were sold.

The site would include a cycleway, walking trail, barbecue area, sporting fields and parks.

Cooranbong is among the first major developments of the state government’s Lower Hunter Regional Strategy to begin construction.

The strategy set the region’s land use direction in 2006.

Mr Johnson said his project had emerged from years of red tape and planning delays. The Newcastle Herald first reported in January 2005 that Mr Johnson was seeking a rezoning for the site.

The Johnson Property Group hit trouble during the financial crisis, teetering on the brink of oblivion as banks sought to reduce risk.

Mr Johnson said he secured private finance to begin the project. He said a third of the 360-hectare site would be conserved and $9million spent on regenerating it, along with a $1million endowment fund to maintain bush in future.

Mr Johnson revealed last year that creditors owed about $150million had accepted a new arrangement for the company.

The agreement allowed the company to emerge from administration and refinance.

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