Newcastle City Council told a handful of Cooks Hill residents they would have to pay more than $23,000 each if they wanted electricity wires moved underground, after a suggestion that the relocation could be part of major street upgrades.
An email to a Cooks Hill resident from a council staffer, seen by the Newcastle Herald, rebuffed a suggestion that subterranean electricity infrastructure should be part of council’s upgrades to Council Street.
It comes as concern builds among some residents after council cut down all the figs that lined the street over three days last week, ahead of a major upgrade that is expected to start in April.
RELATED: Fig trees cut down in Cooks Hill
Michele Knight wrote to council in December to suggest that it might be easier for the city to find a type of tree to replace the figs that lined the street – which had already been earmarked for removal – if the power lines were moved under ground while council replaced drainage infrastructure below the surface of the road.
It wasn’t the first time the suggestion had been made to council.
In response, project manager Dayne Harris wrote that council had asked residents in the street in early 2016 whether they would be willing to foot the bill to move the electricity wires, but there had been “limited uptake”.
“At the time, the estimated household cost was $23,815.00,” Mr Harris’ email said.
“I note this was an estimate to determine the interest from residents - the final cost may have increased with consultant and contractors fees.”
Relocation of the power lines would be the responsibility of Ausgrid, the state’s major energy infrastructure company.
The Ausgrid Asset Relocations policy document, publicly available online, notes that the company has no scope to subsidise or financially contribute to projects “where the benefits accrue solely to the proponent of the relocation works”.
Though council does not own the power infrastructure, the poles and wires are on a council-run street – not private property.
A council spokesperson said: “Newcastle City Council does not ask residents to pay for council infrastructure works unless the works are specifically requested by the resident in addition to what council had planned to deliver”.
“Two years ago when first consulting with residents on Council Street, we were asked if the power lines could be placed underground as part of the work to address the flooding that regularly occurs when it rains.
“As a courtesy to the residents, we investigated the costs of placing the power lines underground. We reported back to the residents that while the work could be done, it would cost around $23,000.
“Residents were given the option to pay for the additional upgrade in their street or continue with telegraph poles on the street. Not surprisingly, only a few residents indicated they were willing to pay for the removal of the telegraph poles and so the idea was discarded.”’
Ms Knight told the Herald she believed putting the power lines underground was consistent with council’s push to promote Newcastle as part of the Smart City campaign.
She said council’s decision to ask residents to pay for wiring to be put underground, rather than include it in its plan, was “short-sighted”.
“The works proposed to be undertaken on Council Street will necessitate extensive excavation of the street,” she said.
“With the relocation of overhead wiring underground on Hunter Street as part of the light rail works, Scott Street as part of the Supercars event, Laman Street as part of the street redesign – between Darby and Dawson Streets – and the council's promotion of Newcastle as a Smart City, residents have asked if the overhead wiring on Council Street could be placed underground as part of the redesign project.
“We believe it is unreasonable to suggest that residents bear this large cost to move wiring underground, and that either council and/or the utility concerned should pay.”
Workers cut down all the fig trees that lined the street last week – which residents described as “iconic” – ahead of planned road, footpath, kerb and gutter upgrades, and the replacement of underground drainage infrastructure. Council will replace the figs with 17 new trees, including Crepe Myrtle, Callery Pear and Black Gums.