Civic Lane latest battleground in Newcastle’s transformation as light rail project rolls on

Business owners and planning advocates are calling for the substantial widening of Civic Lane to allow for parking and better rear access beside the University of Newcastle’s Honeysuckle redevelopment.

Newcastle City Council is assessing a Hunter Development Corporation proposal to subdivide part of the former rail corridor west of Merewether Street and neighbouring Wright Lane to accommodate the university’s proposed new campus, a public plaza at Civic Station and an affordable housing project.

HDC told the Newcastle Herald that the university’s acquisition and development of two sites on the subject land was contingent on the subdivision being approved.

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Newcastle Hunter Urban Planning and Transport Alliance presented an open letter to councillors at a public voice session this week urging them to ask HDC for a “significantly wider” Civic Lane to help compensate Hunter Street businesses affected by the light-rail line.

The debate highlights ongoing tensions between some existing business and property owners and the authorities implementing the city’s unprecedented transformation. 

Civic Lane runs behind a row of 24 buildings on Hunter Street east of Worth Place, separating them from the university’s Honeysuckle redevelopment site.

The HDC subdivision plan proposes widening the lane by one metre, but the alliance wants it to be 10 metres wider, which would shave a slice of land from two of the university’s three Honeysuckle sites.

“These businesses and residences need access, and they are going to need the opportunity to reorient their buildings because of what they have lost on Hunter Street,” the alliance’s Therese Doyle, a former Greens councillor, told the Herald.

“They will also be badly affected by the proposed university campus development as it now stands with tall buildings overshadowing them and blocking their views to the north.”

The tram line will preclude parking on much of Hunter and Scott streets along its route. 

All 12 submissions to the council about the HDC subdivision, most of them from neighbouring business owners, called for the lane to be widened beyond one metre.  

A council representative said widening Civic Lane further would have a “significant impact on the planning of the adjacent University of Newcastle site given it would reduce the parcel available to be developed”.

“Council staff are currently considering the arguments put forward in submissions regarding the DA and hope to bring the matter to the councillors for determination on June 19,” the spokesperson said.

Businessman Steve Dick, who has moved his real estate business from 480 Hunter Street to Cooks Hill due to light-rail works, said parking, access and room for maintenance cranes were key issues for property and business owners on Hunter Street.

I manage 700 commercial and industrial properties, and many of those are on Hunter Street, and, I’m telling you, the whole place is dying.

Steve Dick

“Civic Lane is a hidden spot, and it’s actually a very good service area out of sight that’s not going to interrupt the vista,” he said.

“They seem to have some dislike of car parking and think that the city can resolve itself without car parking.

“I manage 700 commercial and industrial properties, and many of those are along Hunter Street, and, I’m telling you, the whole place is dying.

“The construction is one thing, but the lack of car parking is the killer.”

Mr Dick, who supports the university redevelopment and is about to move into a new apartment built above his Hunter Street property, said this was the council’s last chance to have a say in what happened on the university site. 

The university's proposed Honeysuckle redevelopment.

The university's proposed Honeysuckle redevelopment.

“This is their only opportunity to protect and enhance that area of town,” he said.

“Once this subdivision is approved, they lose control of everything. They’re not the consent authority any more for any of the buildings over there.”

Development approvals for the university, classed as a state-significant development, will go straight to the minister for planning. 

In his submission, Mr Dick wrote: “This is an opportunity to assist the existing land owners by establishing a safe and functional environment without the need for council expenditure.

“These are the same land owners and businesses who are suffering so much due to the disruptions caused through no fault of their own by the light rail construction.

“If this opportunity is missed, it will significantly affect the useability and value of these properties.”