Speed-hump for court plan

THE site has been cleared. The ‘‘new’’ Frederic Ash building has been demolished and men are at work filling the old mine workings with grout.

The process of approving one of the former Labor government’s pet projects for Newcastle – the city’s new justice precinct – had seemed unstoppable.

After all, Newcastle City Council doesn’t have the power to refuse a government application, and since the council owned the site it had little incentive to refuse.

But despite all the momentum, the project has hit a speed-hump.

A consultant hired by the council to make its formal recommendation to the Hunter’s Joint Regional Planning Panel has drawn attention to one of the proposal’s most serious flaws: parking.

The proposal offers only 25 parking spaces, representing a shortfall of 115 and threatening major traffic problems in the city. According to the consultant – echoing the view of the council’s own parking experts – the development deserved a parking discount, but not such a huge one.

The consultant has suggested the planning panel recommend the government refuse the plan and – presumably – go back to the drawing board.

It is no secret that the proposed development has had many critics, especially among Newcastle’s legal profession.

It’s been described as too bulky for its small, wedge-shaped site, but too small to accommodate all the functions and services that will be required. It’s been criticised for being too far from established legal offices and lacking in scope for future expansion.

But parking has long been identified as one of the project’s worst problems. As the consultant states, there is no scope on the site for any improvement and little opportunity nearby. Nor is the government likely to offer developer contributions to help fund alternatives. It is government, so doesn’t have to. And this being Newcastle, it won’t want to volunteer.

Indeed, some cynics imagine the government is already thinking ahead to the money it might make from selling the present court and police buildings for new ocean-view apartments.

The $94million question for now is, will the planning panel back the council’s formal recommendation and tell the minister to refuse the project?

And if it does, will the minister be prepared to accept that advice?

Port playgrounds

PORT Stephens Council’s plan to demolish 14 playgrounds, apparently because it can’t afford to fix run-down equipment, will upset and worry many ratepayers. Some may fear the playgrounds might be reclassified and sold off.

Surely such a drastic move should be undertaken as part of a careful strategic review, with special pains to ensure that no neighbourhoods are left without any playgrounds at all.

And as one councillor has pointed out, the council’s heavy expenditure on questionable legal proceedings and its losses on poor investments such as the Samurai resort present a disturbing contrast to its unwillingness to keep playgrounds open.

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