University of Newcastle unveils long-term Honeysuckle building project

FUTURE CITY: University of Newcastle's Honeysuckle vision.
FUTURE CITY: University of Newcastle's Honeysuckle vision.

SEVEN modern multi-storey buildings constructed over a decade or more, with students in the first building in two years’ time.

That’s the vision that the University of Newcastle will unveil at 5pm at a two-hour information drop-in session at Newcastle City Hall, with a second session on Saturday between 10am and noon.

Although only a $25-million part of the first stage of the four-stage program is funded at the moment, the university is confident it will have the financial strength to keep building the CBD campus, some of which will rely on contributions from industry partners and from direct government grants.

The university’s Honeysuckle plans were laid out yesterday afternoon in an interview with the senior deputy vice chancellor for research and innovation, Kevin Hall.

Professor Hall, whose academic background includes a PhD in civil engineering from the University of NSW, said the first building – Stage 1A – would comprise an innovation hub and space for students from  the School of Creative Industries, whose students were presently spread between three sites.

Professor Hall said the university would lodge a development application for the building later this year and hoped to have students through the doors by mid-2020. It was also preparing a project master plan and a staged concept plan development application for the overall Honeysuckle site, to be lodged with the NSW Department of Planning and Environment. 

“This is an exciting opportunity for our students and the community,” Professor Hall said. “Student experience is critical to high quality education and having the campus in the community puts students at the heart of a city where there is change occurring, where there is social innovation and economic force driving things.

“The term ‘regional university’ is often used detrimentally by the G8 [group of major universities] but we are proud of being a foundational building block of the region, and our facilities in the city are intended to be a shared resource, with the doors open to the public.”

Professor Hall said putting the innovation hub and the creative industries school in the one building gave the university “more bang for the buck” in construction terms. The building was likely to be four storeys high and would stand at the north-western corner of the Honeysuckle campus, next to the Worth Place section of the light rail track as it moved from the rail corridor onto Hunter Street.

When the university first announced the innovation hub it was planned for a site on King Street opposite University House that was originally home to historic TPI House, since demolished.

Professor Hall said putting the $10 million that this building would have cost together with $15 million earmarked for the creative industries school was a better outcome. The university was still looking at alternative uses for the King Street site.

He said the innovation project also included funding from the state government, Newcastle City Council, the council’s business improvement association Newcastle Now, and a digital company, Hunter DIGIT.

He said that about 1200 students were enrolled across the four-year program of creative industries, while he estimated that 2000 undergraduates had been in “some form of contact” with aspects of the university’s broader innovation program in the past year. On the long-term plan for Honeysuckle, Professor Hall said the seven buildings in the university’s artwork was a “notional” idea of what could go there, and the eventual number might be more or less.

“The number of buildings, their order and their purpose will be identified through the planning cycle,” Professor Hall said. “Where we can find partners for some of these projects we want to have co-location, given the nature of the digital corridor [being built in the CBD] we expect these high-tech spaces will attract interest from businesses.” 

He said some confidential discussions in this area were already under way. He said the university was buying the land from the state government in three blocks: one purchase was complete and it had options over the other two sites, contingent on meeting milestones.

He said those going to the information sessions would see the concept was “something the university and the city can be proud of”.

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