Delays to approval by Newcastle Council hold up approval of affordable housing on old Empire Hotel site on Hunter Street

The Catholic Church remains optimistic it can finish its affordable housing development on the site of the old Empire Hotel by the end of 2019, but has conceded frustrating delays in the approval of the development application have held up the project. 

Plans for the $30 million tower on Hunter Street were unveiled in May last year, with the Catholic Diocese announcing 128 studio, one- and two-bedroom units would be built over 13 storeys.

It had been hoped that the relevant approvals would be granted by Newcastle Council before the end of the year so the project could go before the Joint Regional Planning Panel (JRPP) for a final decision in December. 

The diocese’s vice chancellor administration, Sean Scanlon, admitted that had not played out as anticipated, but was hopeful council approval would be granted this month so the project could proceed to the next meeting of the JRPP. 

“All being well we could still start building in June,” Mr Scanlon said. 

“We really want to get on with it. We’ve got partners that are ready to go.” 

The troubled parcel of land has been the subject of numerous redevelopment attempts since the old hotel building was demolished in 2011; with all falling over at the final stages. 

But Mr Scanlon brushed off suggestions their affordable housing proposal could also fall victim to the apparent jinx on the site. 

“We’re very committed,” he said. “And I think everyone wants to see affordable housing in the city in one shape or the other.” 

​He believed the plan “generally” had the support of council but bureaucratic delays and “minor issues” had been responsible for the hold up. 

It was originally anticipated the build would take 18 months but Mr Scanlon said that timeframe could be shortened once approval was granted. 

“One of the contraints was dealing with the mine subsidence and we think that will be less of an issue than we anticipated, which will quicken up the process. 

“Certainly we want the building to be completed by November of 2019.”