AT THE height of its influence, Renew Newcastle’s founder Marcus Westbury was fond of retelling an old joke.
Newcastle, it seemed, was always on the verge of something. A large-scale development was just around the corner. Three to five years away.
The joke, of course, was that most of the action never really seemed to eventuate, and in the meantime it was organisations like Renew fostering small-scale development that helped begin Newcastle’s revitalisation.
That word – revitalisation – has since been adopted by the NSW government as its catch-cry in Newcastle.
Indeed it’s no longer UrbanGrowth or the Hunter Development Corporation guiding state investment in the city, it’s Revitalising Newcastle, an amalgam of various state government departments.
The state government, through Revitalising Newcastle, claims credit for bringing that elusive large-scale development to the city.
The narrative is that it has been the government’s half-a-billion dollar investment in Newcastle, mostly spent on the 2.7 kilometre light rail project, that has helped bring activity into the city.
A springboard launching the $1.6 billion in development busily changing Newcastle’s skyline.
But if the NSW government wants to bask in our success, it must also accept the heat when things aren’t as positive.
Yet in recent excursions into the city’s politics, two Berejiklian government ministers have failed in this regard.
First it was the Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who attempted to shift attention from his own delay in coming good on a promise to produce a business case for the light rail extension with an attack on the Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes.
And now it’s the Arts Minister Don Harwin, who raised hope for funding to expand the Newcastle Art Gallery, and now – having failed to deliver any money – is putting the blame on the council.
Say what you will about the council – and it is not without blame, because it has had years to come up with funds for the expansion – but the light rail business case and the gallery extension are examples where the state government has prioritised massive spending in Sydney above more modest projects in Newcastle.
Nothing like a looming election to bring out the blame shifting and party politics.