IT’S already been dubbed The Nightmare on Hunter Street – a looming choke of cars and traffic brought on by the opening of the new law courts and university campus in Newcastle’s CBD.
When opened, the university’s New Space campus will house more than 2300 people at peak times. Its own transport study predicts, at best, that only 40per cent of those people will arrive by public transport.
Despite that, the university has proposed only five on-site parking spaces. Next door at the new law courts, only 24 on-site parking spots are being built.
The university is now engaged in a dispute with Newcastle council, with the council saying the university is refusing to negotiate on development contributions that would allow the council to buy land and build a new city car park.
While the council has expressed its ‘‘disappointment’’, some of the city’s leading business groups have gone further, saying the impending calamity will be disastrous for the city.
The university denies it is playing hardball, but its city project has been declared a state significant development, meaning it will bypass the council.
In a statement issued to the Newcastle Herald yesterday, the university estimated that 60per cent of its existing business and law students lived within walking or cycling distance of the city campus, with 59per cent of staff also living in the city.
It didn’t answer questions regarding its obligations to parking, or developer contributions to the council, saying only that the council ‘‘is an important stakeholder [and] as such we are in regular contact with them’’.
Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp said responsibility for the cost and impending chaos that the developments will bring to the city’s streets will unfairly fall on the council and its ratepayers.
‘‘Council is very disappointed given the effort to which it has gone to facilitate the university development,’’ he said. ‘‘We extended development terms [when the uni purchased the site from the council], we waived fees, we paid for the demolition of the old buildings, yet after doing that, to have the university refuse to negotiate with council for the provision of car parking is exceptionally disappointing.
‘‘In my mind, the university is failing to be a good corporate citizen.’’
The council is understood to have already raised its concerns with the state government, something the Newcastle Now business group confirmed it had already done.
Both parties have also commissioned an independent study of what impact the city campus and law courts will have on parking and traffic.
Newcastle Now chairman Edward Duc said that while the campus represented a great boost for the city, the parking issue and the university’s stand-off ‘‘is of great concern’’. ‘‘It’s going to be incredibly bad,’’ Mr Duc said. ‘‘The Civic area has always been among the worst areas to find parking and now it’s going to get a lot worse.
‘‘Our independent information says the figures the university is using [in its transport study] rely on 2006 numbers and they are incorrect. They’ve got to come to the table and get a solution because it won’t just be the staff and students who will be disadvantaged, but the entire city.’’
In a submission to the state planning department, Newcastle Now said as many as 550 students would seek city parking spaces every day.
The university’s transport and parking assessments, it said, were ‘‘optimistic’’ and actual figures would ‘‘exceed the numbers provided’’.
‘‘Further information on realistic parking demand and alternative options for satisfying that projected demand is urgently needed,’’ it concluded.
The university said it had submitted a number of transport options as part of its state significant development application.
‘‘We will ensure we promote alternative travel options and implement a range of awareness and education,’’ the university statement said.
‘‘The New Space design incorporates end of trip facilities (bike storage, lockers and showers) and ample bike storage facilities with over 200 spaces.
‘‘Given the expected range of travel options that will be available in 2017, the New Space project will include limited on-site vehicle parking. As required by the [planning department], this decision has been benchmarked against comparable projects in other Australian cities and regional centres.’’
Newcastle Now and the council disagree.
‘‘The entire submission is based on 2006 figures,’’ Mr Duc said. ‘‘A lot has changed since then and things will change dramatically when thousands more people need to get into that precinct.’’
The university’s submission is currently on public display and open to public comment until tomorrow.