Premier Mike Baird confirms rail corridor open to development

PREMIER Mike Baird has confirmed land on the Newcastle rail corridor will be up for grabs for development once the heavy rail line is truncated. But ahead of his visit to the city today, Mr Baird said Newcastle City Council would have the final say on all proposals.

The council will have to endorse other land uses for those parts of the current rail corridor not needed for light rail in the future, and will be the consent authority for development applications.

The government will not use its powers to zone land in the corridor unless council has given the proposal approval.

“Under our plan Newcastle Council will have the final say about what development occurs on the former rail corridor and it must tick off on any proposal before it proceeds,’’ Mr Baird said.

“I know the council and some in the community have concerns about this project. We want to ensure we get the best outcome for Newcastle, which is why we are taking this step.’’

But the type of development that would be permissible once the heavy rail is gone remains up in the air, ahead of state-owned development agency UrbanGrowth unveiling its proposals for the land.

Mr Baird said the commitment to giving the council a lead role in the decisions followed representations from Lake Macquarie independent MP Greg Piper, who had conveyed community concerns about the future of the corridor.

“Given the importance of this once-in-a-generation revitalisation process, we believe it is critical that Newcastle Council plays a key role in the planning decisions for the city’s future,’’ Mr Baird said.

Under current plans, light rail will run down part of the corridor but it would switch into Hunter Street, leaving about half the current corridor, including a large area near Newcastle railway station, vacant.

The government – along with Labor – refused to back a private member’s bill from Mr Piper, which would have prevented major development on the vacant land in future and restricted its use to public recreation, public transport, public art and cafes.

With only a few weeks to go until the heavy rail is closed on December26, Mr Baird isn’t backing away from the plans.

‘‘Newcastle was paralysed by a lack of action under the former Labor government – we will not make the same mistake, which is why we are proceeding with our plan to revitalise this great city,’’ he said.

Minister for Transport and the Hunter Gladys Berejiklian said new pedestrian crossings over the line would open early next year at Steel Street, Kuwumi Place, Worth Place, Perkins Street and Wolfe Street.

‘‘These five new pedestrian crossings, together with the opening of Stewart Avenue and Merewether Street level crossings, will help kick-start the revitalisation of this great city and get people moving more easily between Hunter Street and the foreshore while the detailed planning work for urban renewal is completed,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.

“... We know light rail is a fantastic public transport option that customers love to use and as we have seen in Sydney’s inner west, and around the world, it can completely transform and revitalise cities.’’

Further crossings, including for vehicles, would be announced next year.

Newcastle City Council generally considers most development applications in the city, but proposals for development worth more than $20million, or proposals worth more that $5million that are lodged by or on behalf of the Crown, are determined by a Joint Regional Planning Panel.

Development worth more than $10million for nearby Honeysuckle land is assessed by the state government, although it also has the power to ‘‘call in’’ and assess any large-scale development, provided the independent Planning Assessment Commission has advised it to do so.

Mr Baird will take part in a roundtable on the city’s future on Thursday with community groups and organisations, and later address a Hunter Business Chamber function.  

He will also visit Wyee with Mr Piper, after the government’s recent announcement it and Hunter Water would pay $26million to extend Hunter Water’s reticulated sewerage system to the town.