OF all of the aspects of the state government’s Revitalising Newcastle project, none is so central to the future of the city as that section of the former heavy rail corridor not needed for light rail.
After years of bruising debate, the line is truncated at Wickham and work is soon to start on 2.7 kilometres of light rail to run along the corridor to Worth Place, before swinging out onto Hunter Street, and later Scott Street, for the duration of the journey.
The state government, which is funding the project, is adamant there will be development on certain sections of the corridor, which means that unless these future buildings are constructed leaving room for people to pass through beneath them, it will no longer be a corridor as such.
Still, the proposal to build on the corridor seems to have a majority of public opinion behind it, and while a vocal public transport lobby is still calling for the light rail to run its entire length along the corridor, there seems no chance of that happening this late in the piece.
Documents relating to the rezoning have been on display with Newcastle City Council since September 18, with submissions closing on Monday. The documents on display state that changes have been made to the original UrbanGrowth/Hunter Development Corporation proposal for the corridor. They say the number of apartments has fallen from as many as 600 to between 100 and 150, and that land for commercial and retail use has been cut by 1000 square metres from the original 5000 square metres.
The documents say public recreation space is up by 3200 square metres, with building heights reduced in some places.
The peak developer lobby, the Property Council of Australia, says it’s an “excellent proposal”, but it wants more density between Darby Street and Brown Street, and concessions for developers with heritage buildings facing Hunter Street and backing on to the corridor. It’s widely believed the light rail was moved on to Hunter Street to favour developers but the property council says it has long wanted to preserve most of the corridor for public use, and that large scale or high rise development along the corridor’s length is “simply not feasible, nor desirable”.
Even so – as noted above – it will only take one building to block the corridor to end its future utility. Which is why some sceptics want to see the light rail working properly before the corridor is sacrificed forever.