New ideas for Hunter Street

HUNTER Street is still synonymous with Newcastle in the minds of many people.

And however downbeat and tired the old strip might seem, it simply won’t die.

Novocastrians have an ambivalent attitude to their city’s old main drag, with most believing its time will somehow come again, but with nobody really knowing how that might occur.

Yet things are happening in Hunter Street, and other things are happening in other places that will affect it.

The transfer of the city’s justice precinct, with all its controversial pros and cons, is an obvious example.

Concerns have been raised over the parking and traffic impacts of this development, but it is hard to imagine it not proceeding.

Buildings are still changing hands in the street, with new owners bringing new ideas. The residential renaissance that began years ago, turning old upstairs offices into apartments, is continuing.

But despite the sense of impending progress, many uncertainties remain.

It was recently announced that Landcom, the NSW government’s development arm, would take an active hand in the revitalisation of the Hunter Mall. Handled sympathetically – with more in mind than pure profit to the government – this move has immense potential to transform the former city CBD.

The government also has a direct stake in the former Empire Hotel site and the old post office building, and Newcastle is waiting for some indication of their future. Inevitably, the subtext to any discussion about Hunter Street’s future is the question of transport, with the evergreen topic of the rail line relevant to virtually every other plan and dream, from the justice building itself to the more hazy scheme for relocation of university facilities from Callaghan to the city.

In this fluid context, Newcastle City Council’s efforts to attract suggestions from the community – and especially from younger people – are valuable.

Too often, civic ‘‘improvements’’ have been imposed from the top down with seemingly minimal input from the people who want to use Hunter Street.

With the future of so many important parts of the grand old road now in flux, Novocastrians have a real opportunity to influence its final form. They should seize that opportunity with enthusiasm.

Not now, Newcastle

‘‘NOT now, but not never,’’ is the state government’s latest patronising sop to those who want action over Newcastle’s under-utilised portside land.

The seemingly tangible lack of enthusiasm displayed by the government in its off-handed announcement of approval for Newcastle Port Corporation’s redevelopment plans for the former BHP steelworks site says it all.

As things now stand, it appears Newcastle won’t have a container terminal until Botany and Port Kembla overflow.

It seems clear that the government’s plan for Newcastle is to keep shipping coal to Asia and royalties to Sydney, and no pleas by the city for help to add news strings to its bow seem able to change that vision.

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