THE University of Newcastle was talking about moving resources into Honeysuckle as early as 2010, and its expansion into the Civic precinct, which started well before that, has given the institution a high-visibility profile in the city centre.
The $95-million New Space building on Hunter Street is its CBD flagship, and rightly so. But if the university’s long-term vision for the city is to be realised – and it is accepted that we are only in the very early stages of this transition – then the New Space building and the other Civic facilities will simply be one end of a substantial city campus that will stretch along the Honeysuckle corridor west to Worth Place, boasting almost a dozen buildings.
By any stretch of the imagination, this proposal involves a substantial expansion and rearrangement of the university’s structure, giving the public a further insight into a long-term policy involving a shift of at least some arts and education courses away from Callaghan and into town.
The university is unveiling the broad themes of this proposal at a pair of information sessions at Newcastle City Hall – one today between 5pm and 7pm, and the other on Saturday from 10am to noon. Further information will be made available in the coming weeks and months as development applications are lodged, first for an overall site master plan, and then for the first building to go up under this multi-stage proposal, a $25-million building that will face the newly built light rail tracks on Worth Place.
The university has put what some might consider an optimistic timeframe on the approvals process, calculating it will have the first students walking into its proposed innovation hub and creative industries building in mid-2020, just two years away.
In December 2016, then-premier Mike Baird said the university’s move into Honeysuckle would make it an “anchor” of the redevelopment of the rail corridor.
“What you’re starting to see is how great Newcastle will be,” Mr Baird said at the time. “The trend around the world is very clear, the great cities are seeing great universities come back toward the centre.”
With the light rail work generating the disruption it has, the “great city” tag might seem a distant dream. But the work will finish, and the dust will settle, and the university’s plans for Honeysuckle will surely act as a driver for this next stage in our city’s history.