WITH a trio of announcements on Tuesday, the state government brought the public up to speed on some major aspects of its light rail-led revitalisation of the Newcastle central business district.
Confirmation that the government has modified its order for the Newcastle light rail cars to have them run on batteries – charged at each stop – is an important aesthetic breakthrough that allows the system to run without unsightly overhead catenary wiring.
A government proposal to build affordable housing on a rail corridor site at Civic – first revealed in March by the Newcastle Herald – is more controversial, because there is still a sizeable chunk of public opinion that favours keeping the corridor as open space. A for-profit corridor development would likely be howled down from the very start, but something as socially worthy as community housing – or the University of Newcastle development put forward for a nearby corridor site in December – is far harder to argue against, as the government surely knows.
But the biggest announcement on Tuesday was the news that the government would seek “registrations of interest” from developers interested in building on The Store site in Hunter Street, next to where the heavy rail services will terminate at Stewart Avenue.
The Store site is one of the most important redevelopment sites in the city. Zoned to allow heights of 90 metres, and free from any restrictions relating to mine subsidence, the plan is to have a developer build one or more towers on the site, with the undercover ground floor given over to a large-scale bus and coach interchange. The government says it is too early to look at the cost to the state purse from such a project, but the plan is clearly to have the developer foot as much of the interchange cost as the market can bear.
While The Store is a culturally important landmark in many eyes, it is in a dilapidated state, structurally.
A public debate over its future – if such a debate arises – should focus on what the city will gain from this development, not what it might be losing. Heritage is important to Newcastle, without a doubt, but we are not a city preserved in aspic, making a living from our past. We are a community looking to the future, confident enough to accept that development need not be a dirty word.