Signal box development application lodged with Newcastle Council for $2.9 million renovation

GRAND PLAN: $2.9 million worth of works proposed by UrbanGrowth would see the old signal box transformed in readiness for a new tenant to take it over. Newcastle Council has placed the plans on public exhibition.
GRAND PLAN: $2.9 million worth of works proposed by UrbanGrowth would see the old signal box transformed in readiness for a new tenant to take it over. Newcastle Council has placed the plans on public exhibition.

Newcastle’s old signal box will become an “iconic destination” and “magnet for activity” on the former rail corridor, under plans for the historic building lodged with Newcastle Council. 

For nearly 80 years, a switch gear in the signal box was used to guide the passage of trains in and out of Newcastle station. 

If state government plans are approved, the gear will become a centerpiece of the refurbished building, illuminated “floating in space” in its original cast iron frame. 

The building’s use would change from railway infrastructure to commercial, but its future would hinge on the tenant that takes it over. 

The $2.9 million worth of works on public exhibition would see the demolition of “non-significant” parts of the interior, include the timber floor on level one. 

Sections of the wall would be demolished to create new openings, but the timber windows and door, brickwork and spiral staircase would be repaired and retained. Interpretive signage would be posted on the walls. 

Once renovated, the building would offer about 75 square metres of floor space on the ground level and 15 square metres on the first floor. 

It’s anticipated it would be open 7am to 10pm, seven days a week. It could accommodate up to 50 people at any one time, including four full-time employees. 

The works would also take in a vacant building and toilet block to the west of the signal box. 

Paving and tree planting around the buildings would create a plaza, to be occasionally used for markets.

It would be complemented by a water fountain, seating and a new pedestrian footpath connecting Scott Street to Wharf Road. 

A separate rezoning application lodged last year with council would see the signal box designated for public recreation, meaning it could be used for information and education facilities, a kiosk, markets, a cafe or restaurant. 

"The current application seeks to deliver the refurbished signal box as a shell building,” the development application said. “A future tenant may require further fit-out works that may be subject to a separate first-use DA.” 

The signal box is state heritage-listed but a management plan submitted to the Office of Environment and Heritage has received conditional approval. 

The DA said when the signal box was constructed, it was “technologically advanced for its time.” 

"From its construction in 1936 to its closure in 2014, the Newcastle signal box was an active mechanism at the heart of the bustling Newcastle train station precinct,” it said. “The proposal … breathes new life (and importantly public life), into the once energetic but now dormant structure.”