PAUL Broad has had a long and successful history across various public and private sector roles, and his propensity to wear his Hunter heart on his sleeve made him, in my opinion, an ideal person to chair the Hunter Development Corporation.
Shocked, like most people, at his snap resignation last week, I rang Broad to hear first-hand why he had pulled the pin.
The first thing to note is that chairing the HDC was a secondary role, after Broad’s day job as chief executive officer and director of Snow Hydro, a power company owned by the federal, NSW and Victorian governments.
Broad has chaired HDC since its formation in 2008 and has given himself whole-heartedly to the job. But Broad has long shown an ability to juggle multiple roles, and his experience in the private sector, as well as with government agencies and authorities, means he is well-equipped to cut through the bureaucratic bulldust that can so often bedevil public life.
With him gone, it would appear that the HDC has lost its loudest and most protective champion. If the Sydney-centric bureaucrats are already taking detrimental control of the Newcastle revitalisation project – as Broad alleges – then how much worse will things become with him gone?
Broad said on Friday and again on Tuesday that he did not believe that light rail was the best option for Newcastle.
His proposal, which could be described as a ‘‘wait and see’’ approach, involves building a big and comprehensive interchange at Wickham – using The Store site as well – and then waiting to see how new developments, including the University of Newcastle campus and the new court building, impact on the movement of people through the city.
If it looks like light rail is the ticket, then go for light rail. But if not, Broad recommends buses – perhaps of differing sizes – to take people east of the interchange.
My fear, as I told him, was that this could result in the worst of all outcomes: a truncated line and an interchange with little or no extra CBD spending despite the windfall $1.7billion delivered from the Port of Newcastle lease when only $700million was initially expected.
Interestingly, Broad says the government did look closely at buying The Store building a while back, but the idea apparently petered out over inter-departmental bickering over who would pay for it. It should be revived.
Broad bases his opposition to building on the truncated rail line with the philosophical belief that ‘‘you never give up a corridor’’. He cites historical examples of corridor sales in Sydney that were later bought back again at great expense. I’m not sure the Sydney model applies here, because the rail corridor is simply one of four east-west connections, along with Honeysuckle Drive/Wharf Road, Hunter Street and King Street. Also, the corridor’s status as one of the few parts of the peninsula not subjected to shallow underground mining only adds to its development value if it is no longer needed for transport. Broad says he ‘‘gets’’ that argument, but worries we will look back in 25years and say ‘‘why did we ever build on that?’’
But the corridor, and the broader Newcastle revitalisation, are only part of the picture as far as Broad’s dissatisfaction is concerned.
On Tuesday, he lamented the lack of community and government interest in building the long-awaited Hexham to Fassifern rail by-pass – long considered a key to developing Newcastle as a container port, while getting freight trains out of Adamstown and other suburban areas.
He also shook his head at the decision to sell all of the Tillegra dam land, worrying that the next threat to the Hunter’s water security could mean politicians opting for ‘‘a de-sal plant, which would be the worst possible thing’’.
In the end, Broad says, his list of complaints became too long, and he wasn’t being heard by the government. Resignation, then, was the only option.
Planning Minister Rob Stokes said this week that he was surprised by the decision, but he should be in no doubt as to the reasons.
Broad says he has written Stokes ‘‘a long note’’ setting out his concerns. I did ask to see it, but while he wouldn’t give it to me, I think we can work out pretty much what it said. If this government is fair dinkum, it will put considerable weight on his concerns.