EDITORIAL: Weighing change against economic upside

LAST year Fairfax Media examined the legacy of the Hunter Economic Zone, a commercial precinct outside Kurri Kurri that was designed to help drive the area’s economy but left its mayor believing the community was no better off. 

Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent at the time dubbed the $100 million project “an opportunity missed”, while former Greens councillor James Ryan dubbed it “a fabulous or tragic case study of how not to plan”.

The Land and Environment Court overruled council plans to build in the park due to the Regent honeyeater, a decision Cr Pynsent called the “nail in the coffin for the site”. 

Whatever the fatal detail that ultimately prevented that project reaching its ambitious goals, it serves as a lesson for those considering similar projects at Black Hill. 

On the other hand, the Thornton and Beresfield industrial precinct’s success at the junction of the major highways offers a tantalising vision of an outcome. Those precincts have developed into hubs on the New England Highway

The two separate plans for 400 hectares off the M1 Motorway to become industrial land would together outstrip the Thornton and Beresfield sites. 

With any development comes risk, and the size of the proposal here may amplify those risks. While it must be remembered that these proposals are in their infancy, it is clear that the proponents believe the appetite for them is strong enough to warrant their outlay up to this point. 

Planners will undoubtedly consider their merits and drawbacks thoroughly in assessing whether to approve the proposals given the scale of what is proposed. 

Resident opposition has been a factor in the church’s plans between Black Hill Road and John Renshaw Drive, and is one that requires consideration throughout the process. 

The Hunter has changed since the HEZ was established. Property prices have risen, Sydney has begun to strain against its size and Newcastle itself is evolving at an unprecedented rate. Given the two projects are neighbours, the time may be right for these subdivisions to reshape the Hunter’s commercial landscape.

Ultimately it must be decided whether the industrial uses and their predicted economic boost, which would likely transform Black Hill, are enough to warrant another strike for that opportunity missed. 

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