Line call: final decision looms on corridor rezoning

The rezoning of the former heavy rail corridor goes before Newcastle council for a final decision on Tuesday night. Picture: Simone De Peak NEWCASTLE COUNCIL will deliver afinal verdict on the state government’s plan to rezone the former heavy rail corridor on Tuesday, at its last meeting before the Christmas recess.
Nanjing Night Net

If the council gives the rezoning the tick, it will clear the path for residential and commercial development, open space and tourism uses along a stretch of the corridor between Worth Place and Watt Street.

Council’s interim chief executiveJeremy Bathhailed Tuesday’sdecision a“turning point” for the city.

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Newcastle council votes to back rezoning of heavy rail corridorNewcastle city councillors vote to retain corridor’s public transport zoningRezoning of rail corridor shelved by Newcastle councilRezone plan for rail corridor open for public comment“It ends what has been a very divisive debate in the community,” he said.“Developers and ratepayers need to know that there is planning certainty and that is what will come out of Tuesday’s decision, whichever way it goes.”

Newcastle council gave a tentative green light to the rezoning last year, before it received gateway approval from the state government.

Howeveritssmooth passage through City Hall is likely tobe tested by the results of community consultation –carried out in September and October –which indicatespublic opinion remains sharply divided over the fate of the land.

According to a staffreport to betabled at the meeting,394 submissions and 137 form letters objected to the rezoning, while226 submissions and46 form letterswere in favour ofit.

A further 44 submissions did not clearly state a position.

But the results of a telephone survey commissioned by the council in November have been obtained by theNewcastle Herald,showing starkly different results.

The survey of 955 residents, by ReachTEL, saw 57.5 per cent of people support mixed-use development, university or recreational uses of the old corridor, while 34.7 per cent supported maintaining it for rail.

The survey indicated people aged 18 to 34 were most likely to support the redevelopment of the corridor.

People aged 51 to 65 were most likely to oppose it, while men tended to feel more strongly about the issue generally than women.

Several councillors were laying low over the weekend. Independent Kath Elliott said she was still formulating a view on the rezoning.

Deputy Mayor Declan Clausen (Labor) said it was up to councillors to make individual decisions, but he was pleased about additional benefits the council had been able to negotiate with the state government.

The telephone survey results, supplied by Newcastle City Council.

These included “hard commitments on affordable housing, appropriate public green space and a detailed transport masterplan.”

Activists mobilised, calling on the councillors to hold fire on the rezoning.

“Before any rezoning occurs, we need to be sure that we have the capacity to cater for the future transport needs of the city,” said Ron Brown, a transport engineer and spokesperson for Keep Rail on the Corridor (KROC).

Resident Barbara Ferris alleged 137 handwritten objections had been “misrepresented”as form letters and not counted amongsubmissions. She labelled it“appalling” aduplicated submission supporting the rezoning– which she deemed to be a form letter –was published 80 times.

Of the 394 objecting submissions, 248 supported leaving the current zoning in place so that rail could be reinstated in the future.

Many of the objections opposedthe light rail route, arguing it should follow the existing corridor rather than Hunter Street.42 objections suggested leaving the entire corridor as open space.

Other concerns hinged on parking, traffic congestion, the over-development of the city, creating a visible barrier to the harbour and the overshadowing of Hunter Street.

The telephone survey results, supplied by Newcastle City Council.

Staff emphasized many of thoseconcerns were not within council’s control.

“They relate to decisions that have previously been made by the NSW Government in relation to terminating of the heavy rail and the light rail currently being constructed,” the report said.

A letter written by Transport Minister Andrew Constancehasbeen circulated among councillors, in which he reiteratesthe land is no longer required for transport.

Supporting submissions argued the rezoning would“dramatically” improveconnectivity, reuniting the city withthe working harbour.

Other benefits were bringingpeople back to the CBD, improvingtourism and supportingthe creation of jobs, education, housing and a high quality public domain.

There was “excitement” about the development of the university precinct and Market Street lawn.

“Council received positive comments on the changes happening to the city, since the closure of the heavy rail in 2014,” the report said.

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