EDITORIAL: New state government plan for Hunter Region

WHEN the draft version of the Baird government’s new Hunter Regional Plan was unveiled in November last year, it was quickly lampooned for its creation of a new spot on the map – Hunter City.

Hunter City, we soon found, took in Lake Macquarie, Newcastle, Maitland and Port Stephens – but not Cessnock or Kurri Kurri – and it reinforced a perception that the broader plan had been concocted by people with no real feeling for, or connection to, this region. It was also criticised during the public consultation phase for lacking a detailed delivery method: it was a report with lots of pictures and arrowed diagrams, but not a lot of detail about turning those possibilities into reality.

The final version of the plan, to be unveiled in Newcastle on Friday by Planning Minister Rob Stokes, is substantially different from its draft predecessor.

Hunter City has disappeared, to be replaced by a less geographically contentious Greater Newcastle. The draft plan gave the governance role to a proposed committee of state and council representatives but this idea has been ditched in favour of putting the Hunter Development Corporation in charge of making things happen.

But another new body may be in the wings, however, with the government saying it will consider creating a new commission – following the creation of the Greater Sydney Commission – to oversee development in the region. To fund infrastructure in new growth areas, especially along the Hunter Expressway, the government is proposing a Hunter Region Special Infrastructure Contributions Plan.

Although the plan does not say so, such a scheme is already under way in the Western Sydney Growth Area, with developers paying half of the cost of necessary infrastructure with levies of about $90,000 to $200,000 per hectare. Realistically speaking, there are limits to how much any state government can do to guide the future of this or any region. But the number of construction sites in Newcastle does give credence to the Coalition’s insistence that public infrastructure will encourage private investment. The government needs this plan to work to show other parts of the Hunter that its vision for the region extends past the Newcastle CBD.

As its emissary, the Hunter Development Corporation will need to maintain a constructive relationship with the region’s 11 local councils.

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