Revitalisation – what will it mean for Newcastle?

Don’t get me wrong I loathe the idea of being labelled a naysayer.
As a real estate agent, we always seek the positives and find some benefit, or gleaming attribute, in everything we do and market. However, above all I like to think of myself as a realist, a proud Novocastrian and I will speak up when I see inequities or feel someone is being duped.
For example, I spoke up when Newcastle’s Local Environmental Plan was being manipulated by Urban Growth about the GPT site. My reaction had nothing to do with being anti-development. Rather it was unfair on owners who hold parcels of land with development potential in other areas of the CBD, who followed the rules and made purchases based on Council’s Newcastle City LEP 2014.
 
Taking on self-interest
Likewise, I spoke up when the Friends of King Edward Park and Newcastle University Legal Centre prevented the reuse of the old bowling club land. This would have created another beautiful place to relax and observe our wonderful coastline. A place where thousands of people annually would have enjoyed themselves, and many would have been employed.
The hypocrisy was too bizarre – a self-centred interest group was given far too great capacity to further its cause thanks to the assistance of the University. Don’t forget this support came from an institution that developed a massive new building with only five car parks. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the NeW Space Building and what the University is seeking to do with the additional land.
I have consistently taken a strong stance on the light rail, and especially when we were lumbered with a concrete platform to hold the rails that were to sit 100 mm above the road surface.
This would have prevented the reactivation of Hunter Street – the supposed goal of shifting the railway.
Revitalising Newcastle is a long-held dream of many Novocastrians. However, the next twelve months will see whether the smart videos and artists’ impressions deliver anything like the dream and image being promoted.
 
Revitalisation – the Light Rail & Parking
Until connected to a greater transport link, the Bus & Light Rail Network is worthless infrastructure. Promoted as carrying 150 commuters every 8 minutes in peak time, the 2.7k m long track will consume a large part of the $510 million allocated to the program.
The big losers will be the workers and students of the city who will have to adjust their commuting behaviours, as the concept of ‘Park & Ride’ becomes the custom. Almost Uberesque in its thinking, the low-cost solution to all day parking may revolve around using the dormant capacity of the on-street suburban spaces, which are free and close to bus stops and stations.
The short-term users will also suffer as spaces close to their destinations in the city are removed. There will be a need on the part of commuters to adjust their thinking about where to park and how far, is too far, to walk.
The big winner will be private transport operator Keolis Downer, especially if they can design a system of routes that are meaningfully timed thereby increasing patronage and triggering the special bonuses for them.
Unfortunately, ‘park and ride’ is here to stay, however on the upside it may impact housing values near stations and major bus routes such as Adamstown, Broadmeadow, Kotara, Waratah, Mayfield and Warabrook. Similarly, housing in the city with parking will be impacted by a significant change in the perception of the value of parking.
 
Cycleways must be part of the matrix
Cycleways will take on more importance as part of Newcastle’s evolving transport matrix. The proposed cycleway designs are well-considered with the changes proposed being safe and predominantly segregated from cars, trucks and motorcycles. The trouble is that funding for the cycleway is not being delivered as part of the $510 million but must be funded from traditional sources. Let's hope that funding can be delivered sooner rather than later, and before the space to build a cycleway is lost. Easy access to the city via safe segregated cycleways may see properties in Lambton, New Lambton, Kotara, Georgetown, Hamilton North and Waratah grow in value.
 
Hunter Street could be chapel for retail
This is becoming the elephant in the room. Before the catch phrase was changed to “Revitalising Newcastle”, the railway line along Hunter Street was promoted as a “reactivation”. The reactivation aimed to mimic Melbourne’s famous Chapel Street, where cars, trams, and pedestrians safely share the famous retail strip.
In my opinion diversity is central to a vibrant strip shopping precinct. In Chapel Street, it’s possible to have a start-up business right alongside an international retailer. You have many landlords, each with different needs and desires for their tenant. It’s a very different model to a shopping centre that has just one owner.
The Chapel Street model would have been prefect for Hunter Street. However, RMS and Transport NSW persuaded the Minister that it was too dangerous, and that NSW motorists wouldn’t be able to adjust to the new driving paradigm. Also raised as a reason was that, the private operator will probably run on strict timetables over its 2.7km long track. It will make it difficult for a tram to wait for a motorist to reverse park? Really?
Now that Hunter Street will lose most of its kerbside parking and we won't have our very own version of Chapel Street, let's hope that the space that is left, is used to turn tired footpaths into attractions. Before the light rail, our council had plans to transform Hunter Street into a tree-lined boulevard with wide footpaths. Will this vision be possible or funded by Revitalising Newcastle? If Hunter Street is to flourish, and not become a strip of empty shops, our footpaths need plantings, benches, tables and chairs, and whatever else is needed to create an attractive human environment.
The streetscaping and beautification component of the Light Rail project will do more for property values and encourage more tenants to be located on Hunter Street than the Light Rail itself. Sadly, what we are looking at is the same dreary old Hunter Street with a brand-new set of rails and the same footpaths. It won’t be very inviting!
 
Lack of empathy
What will thirty affordable units achieve? The subject of affordable housing is sacrosanct, and a taboo subject not to be criticised for fear of creating offence. The facts are that $100,000 of the Building Better Cities funding will be allocated to each unit in the guise that they will provide nurseries for low paid workers in the city. Spare a thought for the businesses already on Hunter Street, the bridal shops, printers, pubs, coffee shops, barber shops, hamburger joints, optometrists, hobby shops, boutiques and the businesses located above street level. They aren’t able to access or be offered government funding to support their operations during the difficult construction period.
How many of these existing businesses will not survive, how many families and relationships will break down due to the pressure brought to bear by the financial hardships caused by the construction closure. Newcastle is not Sydney! We don’t have hundreds of thousands of pedestrians being pushed onto the sidewalk from the bowels of the earth, and sucked back in daily to and from a subway.
Surely if money can be found for a nursery to house low-paid workers, surely Building Better Cities can help those businesses in the city, who will take most of the pain so we can all benefit from a revitalised Newcastle.
 
For further information contact Steve Dick on 0425 302 771, email steve@rhplus.com.au or visit www.rhplus.com.au
Steven Dick Steven Dick
has had a varied background with experiences in geotechnical engineering to hospitality and catering. He also represented at NBL Level Basketball. His expertise, experience and analytical skills have seen him involved with a number of companies at board level. He has also attained the highest level of recognition in the LJ Hooker and Raine & Horne Commercial Organisations.