Hunter Regional Plan Stokes reveals 20 year development 'blueprint'

THE Baird government will tap developers to help fund infrastructure projects in the Hunter under a plan to grow the region by a third in the next 20 years.

The Planning Minister Rob Stokes will on Friday announce details of the new Hunter Regional Plan, a “blueprint” to guide development in the region for the next two decades.

Mr Stokes said the plan would turn Newcastle into a “vibrant metropolitan centre” with increased residential density in 19 “strategic centres” like Broadmeadow and Glendale, and kick-start investigations into new development releases along the Hunter Expressway corridor.

“The plan aims to create and support thriving urban, rural and coastal communities across the Hunter,” he said.

To do that, the government will ask developers to help pay for infrastructure projects by establishing a new “Hunter Region Special Infrastructure Contributions Plan”, a sort of levy already used in parts of western Sydney to fund essential projects in new growth areas.

The new payment is one of a few significant changes made to the draft, released in November last year as a way to coordinate planning across the Hunter. 

At the time the document was criticised for lacking vision and teeth, and the establishment of a new “Hunter City” was described as “contrived planning jargon”.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

Planning Minister Rob Stokes.

But the government has responded, scrapping Hunter City and making a re-purposed Hunter Development Corporation responsible for making the document a reality.

According to the document, the HDC will develop a “Greater Newcastle Metropolitan Area Plan” that will aim to have 95 per cent of the Hunter’s residents living within 30 minutes of one the region’s new “strategic centres”, as well as overseeing planning for land development along the Hunter Expressway.

“Funding will be provided to growth areas for regional infrastructure for the transport, health, education and justice sectors, as well as for open spaces,” the plan states.

A spokesman for Mr Stokes said changes to the final document were a response to criticisms of the original draft. He said the government would release a discussion paper on the developer contributions fund to determine what kinds of infrastructure it would pay for.

The existing fund in western Sydney is used to pay for essential infrastructure such as roads, and developer contributions are about $25,000-to-$30,000 per block. 

However Fairfax Media understands a Hunter fund would be much less.

While the document reveals the government is investigating the establishment of a new body similar to the Greater Sydney Commission to guide development, it is the HDC that will be given immediate responsibility for the plan.

The plan says the HDC will “monitor and review progress towards achieving the vision and goals of the plan” to “help prioritise Government infrastructure delivery and influence policy settings”. 

“An annual report will be prepared that considers indicators such as housing, employment, communities and the environment, and offers advice to Government on the delivery of short term actions,” the document states.

It comes during a period of flux for the organisation. Founded in 2007 to help drive economic growth through the previous Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, the HDC has been without a general manager since Bob Hawes left in July.

The final document has also introduced plans for several “regionally significant biodiversity corridors” in the Hunter that Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, Scot MacDonald, said would help create a “green grid”.