THE HERALD'S OPINION: The Store facing the wrecking ball

BY approving its own plan to redevelop The Store site as a bus interchange to service the adjacent Newcastle Interchange, Transport for NSW has kicked off the next stage of the city’s public transport overhaul.

Despite Revitalising Newcastle program director Michael Cassel’s assertion that The Store “doesn’t really stand out as a great piece of architecture”, it has been a Hunter Street landmark for generations, and its survival – even as a facade – would have provided a link between the old and new structures.

But as a Review of Environmental Factors for the bus interchange made clear when put on public display in July, practical considerations rendered its retention unfeasible. As well as real concerns about the condition and stability of The Store, the preferred option for buses turning in and out of the interchange involves an upgraded intersection at Denison Street and Hunter Street, with dual turning lanes requiring “partial removal of The Store facade”.

The multi-level car park facing Stewart Avenue will also come down for the interchange, although plans show the clockwise bus loop at the heart of the design turning back before it reaches the concrete car park, leaving that part of the site available for ground-up future development. Also, the bus loop itself is set well to the rear of the site, leaving most of The Store footprint for similarly ground-up redevelopment.

Indeed, the planning documents state that one of the reasons the loop was configured the way it is was to provide “the opportunity to build over the proposal”.

With zoning approval for 90 metres of height – the city’s tallest – the site provides ample opportunity for a residential tower, or towers, of some consequence. Revitalising Newcastle has already taken the site to the market, and an announcement of a successful proponent is expected early next year.

With two large residential blocks north of the interchange – including the Doma Group’s Bishopsgate – now well under way, there certainly seems to be ample demand for west end apartments.

But first of all, The Store site has to work properly as a bus interchange. Even with apartment towers, the state government’s purchase of the site will only be a positive if the bus interchange – replacing the one at Newcastle station – provides the “improved customer experience” that Transport for NSW is promising.

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