Origins of Honeysuckle Development Corporation
The 1970s and 1980s saw a significant decline in the Newcastle CBD and inner suburbs, with population loss, physical degradation and sustained job losses. Jobs and people were increasingly moving to the suburbs. Regional retail complexes had caused the demise of the CBD’s retail attraction. Many of its heritage buildings were falling into disrepair; the former rail yards lay abandoned, unkempt and contaminated. Much of the city was cut off from the harbour and the impact of heavy vehicles around the southern side of the port created tension and traffic. The harbour was the sole domain of industry and shipping. Cottage and Throsby Creeks were little more than polluted channels. Empty wool stores lined the bank of Throsby Creek. Unemployment exceeded the NSW average and the employment base was dominated by secondary industry jobs, which were facing global and technological challenges.
In 1978/79 both the NSW Planning and Environment Commission and the Newcastle City Council recognised the problems facing the CBD and stated in a report to council that “this decline is undesirable in terms of maintaining the regional role of the CBD, minimising journey to work times and distance, utilising to the fullest extent the existing public utility services and infrastructure and promoting an effective transport system.”
Ten years later in 1987 in another report to Council following the release of the 1986 census data, the Planning Service Division again stressed that this decline had continued and called on government to invest in housing strategies, to develop a Social Strategy Plan, to make appropriate changes in human service provision and development controls and institute more coordinated planning.
The success of the Bicentennial Newcastle Foreshore project completed in 1988 opened the community’s mind to the potential of opening the city to the harbour. The possibility of extending the foreshore promenade east and redeveloping the under used rail yards and shipping yards for urban uses was conceived and nurtured. The Honeysuckle Project provided the hope that the CBD could begin to attract retail and office developments lost over decades; that the inner city could be rebranded as an attractive and vibrant residential alternative; that the harbour could become a place for people as well as industry; that improved public transport could open the city to both the harbour and to the potential of relocated public and private sector employment; that the combination of access, affordability, harbour views and heritage buildings might be enough to attract investment and people back to the CBD.
The NSW Government provided $2 million through the Property Services Group, and with the support of Newcastle City Council, began the consultation and investigations that resulted in the development and adoption of the ambitious Honeysuckle Concept Master plan.
While surveys showed high community support for the Concept Master plan the project was unfunded. Moreover, extensive ground work was needed to establish the costs of remediation, the suitability of the site for higher density development, the cost and complexity of heritage restoration and the feasibility of specific land uses. It was also clear that the market did not have an appetite for large scale investment in Newcastle. The financials would not “stack up” without investment in planning and site preparation by government.
The Concept Master plan became the basis on the NSW government’s application to the Federal Government for Building Better Cities (BBC) funding. Newcastle became the only nonmetropolitan city to secure BBC funding in 1992.
The Honeysuckle Development Corporation was constituted on 29 May 1992 under the Growth Centres (Honeysuckle Development Corporation) Order 1992 which was made under the Growth Centres (Development Corporations) Act 1974.
The order set aside certain land in the Parish of Newcastle, County of Northumberland as a growth area, to be known as the Honeysuckle growth centre and constituted the Honeysuckle Development Corporation to promote, co-ordinate, manage and secure the orderly and economic development of the growth centre.
The Act also allowed the development corporation to: manage and survey land vested in it; demolish buildings within or adjoining the growth centre they possessed; locate or relocate utility services; set apart land as sites for building or works or religious, charitable or municipal purposes; subdivide the land; construct roads; erect, alter, repair and renovate buildings; and, improve the land so it would be fit to be used.
The Honeysuckle Development Corporation's specific charter was to coordinate the redevelopment of surplus government railway and port related land along four kilometres of harbour front adjacent to Newcastle's central business district. The Corporation's key objectives were to: prepare and market the Honeysuckle site; provide new and improve old infrastructure to encourage private sector development on the Honeysuckle site; stimulate development in adjacent areas; ensure the community has access to the harbour foreshores; create publicly owned and accessible places on the Honeysuckle site; and, make Newcastle's central business district an even more attractive place to live, work and visit.