HE ONCE described her as one of “the more sensible members of the Labor Party”, but any goodwill between Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes seems to have evaporated after the two traded barbs on the future of the city’s light rail project on Thursday.
Mr Constance was in Newcastle on Thursday after the government’s community cabinet meeting in Singleton to announce that work on the Hunter Street section of the line will begin in September.
But he didn’t miss the opportunity to take aim at Cr Nelmes after her call this week for the establishment of a working group between the council and government to speed up planning for an extended light rail network.
“I would say this to the mayor; why don’t you back the first stage of the project, which you’ve now opposed for many years, before you start dictating to the state about extending it,” he said.
The government committed to completing a business case for the expansion of the light rail network beyond Wickham when it made a deal with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party to pass legislation removing heavy rail into Newcastle in October 2015.
The plan is still yet to surface, despite the Shooters Party saying the government’s had long enough.
Cr Nelmes’ motion was an effort to speed that process up, but Mr Constance accused her of coming late to the party in supporting the project.
“It makes me wonder if the mayor is trying to divert attention away from the fact that she did not back this project,” he said.
“To now call for it to be expanded I think is a bit rich.”
But Cr Nelmes accused Mr Constance of playing “silly politics” and called for him to “stop talking and start delivering”.
“I just want the state government to complete the business case they committed to doing several years ago. I have no qualms calling the state government out to get this done,” she said.
She said she’s put forward motions supporting light rail as far back as the previous term of council, and had “fought” for adaptions to the plan “for the benefit of Newcastle”.
“My message is just get it done,” she said.
On Thursday Mr Constance was still unable to say when it might be complete, instead saying the government was going to “work with” new Transport for Newcastle operator Keolis Downer.
“We’re going to work with their expertise to look at how you might extend Newcastle light rail in the future,” he said.
The government and Mr Constance are incensed that the council have delayed the rezoning of the corridor. In May the council said it wouldn’t progress the rezoning until the government came good with transport plan for the Lower Hunter.