United we stand

A visitor to Newcastle could be forgiven for thinking that last Tuesday’s Lord Mayoral Minute calling on the NSW Government to deliver an integrated transport plan for the Hunter was mundane procedure.

But the proposal put forward by Councillor Nelmes was remarkable for several reasons. Not least because it stamped herself as a Labor Lord Mayor who would not blindly toe the party line, but as a Civic Leader with an eye to the future, someone who could spearhead a new era of cooperation between City and State.

The Lord Mayoral Minute was remarkable in the main because it represented an end to hostilities between Councillors over light rail in the City Centre. It represented a moment in time when the divisions of the past were left behind and unanimity descended upon the chamber.

And with that, a collective sigh of relief from the citizenry could be heard from Wallsend to Nobbys and from Beresfield to Merewether.

The political fight is finally over and the Lord Mayor achieved a famous victory for consensus. Even opponents of the NSW Government’s revitalisation plans have now acknowledged that a modern light rail system is coming to the City Centre.

Attention is now squarely focussed on getting the best outcome for the city, rather than protecting partisan policy. Because the fundamental conflict has been removed for the first time in decades, previously warring factions are now on the same page.

That is no bad thing, but it also makes for what might appear on the surface to be strange bedfellows. Not so - scratch the surface and you find a raft of common goals including;

  • Improved connectivity
  • Reduced congestion
  • Sustainable density

For more than a decade, the Property Council of Australia has maintained a core set of advocacy priorities for the city of Newcastle:

  1. Targeting distinct precincts as the building blocks for revitalising the city centre;
  2. Opening the city back up to its waterfront; and
  3. Connecting it all with an integrated transport network.

Over the past three years, our Newcastle Renewal Taskforce - a local industry brains trust – has been resourced to make submissions on behalf of industry and advise the NSW Government on urban revitalisation.

Taskforce members have recently visited North America and the Gold Coast to understand the critical success factors in deploying light rail. Those experiences highlighted that a set of urgent imperatives exist to guarantee the sustainability of Newcastle’s public transport system.

The first imperative is to deliver market certainty. Investors and residents are craving to know how the future transport network will operate.

Certainty can be delivered by implementing the key transport recommendation made by the Taskforce nearly three years ago; namely, to bring forward a Hunter Transport Plan that interlocks with the Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy

This is the imperative that sits at the heart of the Lord Mayoral Minute which was unanimously agreed to by all Councillors.

An integrated plan for all modes of transport is made more urgent by the completion of major urban renewal projects such as the Newcastle Courthouse redevelopment, University of Newcastle CBD campus and ICON Central Apartment Tower.

Other imperatives remain to create a city centre that is authentically Novocastrian. Chief among those are the creation of a Hunter Transport Body which allows the region to determine public transport outcomes, including future-proofing light rail connections to key activity centres such as Broadmeadow and Callaghan.

The parties previously wedded to heavy rail disconnecting the city from its waterfront – Labor and The Greens – have now adopted those transport policy positions which have long been held by industry.

Clearly the initiative shown by Councillor Nelmes in presenting the Lord Mayoral Minute was anything but mundane.

 

ANDREW FLETCHER

NSW Regional Director

Property Council of Australia