Don’t alienate public land for private use

There is no feasibility study in existence to support the claim that commercial or residential development will take place on the heavy rail corridor once the line is truncated …The heavy rail corridor must be preserved as public domain and should be transformed into green space for pedestrians, cyclists and other active users”.

You might think the above quote comes from a community group anxious to keep public assets in public hands. But these are the words of Andrew Fletcher, then Regional Director of the Hunter chapter of the Property Council of Australia. His vigorous advocacy for retaining the rail corridor for green space and active transport is advanced in the Property Council’s submission to the 2014 NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the Planning Process in Newcastle and the Broader Hunter Region.Readers of the Property Council’s current submission to Newcastle City Council on the Rail Corridor Rezoning Proposal are encouraged to recognise the statement above as a good example of the Property Council’s record of policy proposals based on “independent research grounded in truth”. Unfortunately, the Property Council has done an about face, and its current submission supports developing the corridor.

The Hunter Development Corporation’s planning proposal before the council on Tuesday would hand large swathes of corridor land over to tourist and mixed-use developments. Additionally, the University of Newcastle’s proposed campus, on a significant section of the corridor, makes no provision for public or active transport connections, yet they could easily do so.

All previous commitments to preserving the corridor made by the Property Council, and successive state government ministers, have been wiped. Despite expert advice to the contrary, the NSW government and HDC now insist the corridor is ripe for development; leaving a fig leaf of public space to cover private developments.

The state government’s draft Future Transport 2056: Regional NSW and Infrastructure Plan and Greater Newcastle Future Transport Plan provides only vague outlines of future transport operations for the city. Neither document provides the detailed, comprehensive evidence-based transport plans required by council in previous resolutions.Any new urban plan worth its salt must provide connected, safe, separated cycleways and good pedestrian access. This is a high priority for Newcastle City Council in its strategic plan. Yet no detailed, viable plan for active transport for the city centre is included in the documents under consideration on Tuesday.

Newcastle’s community has consistently made its preference clear, that the rail corridor should remain as public space.Urban and transport planners and residents alike have recognised it’s crucial to retain the corridor for future transport. Even the Property Council has repeatedly asserted that the corridor needs to be kept largely free from development – until now. Its current submission to councilsays that “the rail corridor plan currently on exhibition [is] an excellent proposal” through which their own “strategic design features” can be adopted.

Councillors should take the Property Council at their original word and adopt a plan that “preserves the public domain” in the corridor. The objective evidence suggests we still need that corridor for transport, for green open space, and for a truly accessible cycling and pedestrian way. That could really ‘renew Newcastle.’

Therese Doyle, former Greens councillor, Newcastle City Council

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