HUNTER business and community leaders have reacted with mixed views to the announcement of Newcastle’s light rail route.
Today the Newcastle Herald revealed the state government had selected a ‘‘hybrid’’ option for the route, which will see light rail run down the existing heavy rail corridor, then on to Hunter and Scott Street, before ending at the beach near Pacific Park.
The Hunter Business Chamber welcomed the news, with president Richard Anicich calling it a ‘‘positive announcement’’.
“We welcome the government’s announcement, making it clear they are getting on with the
implementation of these long awaited plans which are integral to the urban renewal of
Newcastle CBD,’’ he said.
‘‘This will have flow on benefits across the whole of the region.’’ “In the 2013 State Budget a further $10 million was allocated to undertake a feasibility study into the potential for this initial light rail route to be the basis for linking the CBD with surrounding suburbs, beaches and the broader Hunter region.
‘‘ We should see today’s announcement as the first but essential step in a much longer term vision for transport solutions across the region.’’
But state Labor candidate Tim Crakanthorp said the plan would needlessly disrupt the city.
‘‘We’ve 25,000 square-metres of new retail space, 500 new units and 6000 new students moving into the CBD and they’re ripping out the efficient transport system we currently have and replacing it with a Mickey Mouse light rail system,’’ he said.
‘‘I think the question many Novocastrians will be asking is, why hasn’t the government asked the people of Newcastle what they want to spend with $460 million - or $1.7 billion [the proceeds from the Port lease].
The government has previously stated work would start by December, and with an election due in March next year the Herald asked Mr Crakanthorp what a state Labor government would do with the line if it were elected.
But he questioned whether work will have began.
‘‘There are a lot of unanswered questions and very little detail [but] in 12 months time this government will not have built a light rail system, by March all we’ll see is busses running,’’ he said.
Convener of the Newcastle Transport For Business Development lobby group, Alan Squire, was similarly skeptical, saying ‘‘I don’t think we’ll ever seen light rail down Hunter Street’’.
‘‘I think they’ll rip up the rail line but once they get to Hunter Street and see how much it costs and how much disruption it will cause to the city - I don’t think we’ll ever see it,’’ he said.
He said his group wanted the government to stick to the cheaper option of running the light rail down the existing rail corridor.
The Greens MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi called the announcement a ‘‘gift to property developers’’.
“When Minister Goward talks about opening up significant areas of the rail corridor for public use, I find it highly unlikely she means parks or public infrastructure,’’ she said.
“Where is the consultation report that contains the supposed endorsement of this route? Today’s announcement is just a coloured line on a map, with no mention of where all the associated infrastructure will be placed.’’
She said ‘‘suspicions’’ that the decision was a ‘‘land grab for property developers’’ could be correct.
“The plan to cut the Newcastle railway line came out of nowhere and this government needs to explain for whose benefit it is, because it definitely isn’t the communities,’’ she said.
“With so much uncertainty around decision making and Newcastle a major focus of the current Independent Commission against Corruption investigation, the Government should not be proceeding with this plan with so many question marks and unanswered questions.’’