OPINION: Opportunity  to revitalise our city

By , 10/04/2019 12:15

TUESDAY’S state budget was a historic day for the Hunter Region, marking the beginning of a new era that will see the city of Newcastle reborn, poised to take its place among the great cities of the world.

After years of undelivered promises by the Labor government, the city we love so much has finally been given her chance to shine.

For the first time in decades, our region lies at the heart of the state budget and money is being returned to where it belongs – with the people of the Hunter. Can anyone even remember a budget that wasn’t all about Sydney?

Our decision to undertake a 99-year lease of Newcastle Port unlocks resources that will be used for accelerating and extending the vision for a revitalised Newcastle, including light rail with the potential to link the CBD with surrounding suburbs, our beautiful beaches and the broader Hunter.

This budget puts an additional $340million into the pot with the $120million the government has already committed to the revitalisation project, which will be overseen by Infrastructure NSW. The funds will be coordinated through the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund (HIIF), taking the HIIF to $690million – money that will go directly towards rolling out the reinvention of Newcastle as a modern city.

The revitalisation of Newcastle is critical to enhancing our entire region and yesterday’s budget gives cause for every citizen of the Hunter – regardless of where we fall between local and state government boundaries – to celebrate.

For too long, Newcastle has been sitting on the edge of its potential, only to be pulled back again and again by a Labor government intent on using the port as a political football to forward its own agenda.

But yesterday the NSW government gave us the green light to leverage the expertise, incentive and financial capacity of private enterprise by undertaking a long-term lease of the port. In addition to bringing a new wave of investment to the region and with it, inherent flow-on effects, the leasing of the port will also create employment.

As evidenced by the successful 99-year lease of Port Botany and Port Kembla, the NSW government is experienced in such transactions, using them to maximise benefits to the community.

The lease of the Port of Newcastle will be no different, fast-tracking urban renewal to create a CBD that is part of the waterfront, opening the city to the foreshore and creating a diverse, vibrant place for everyone.

In turn the East End will be bolstered as a retail, entertainment, leisure and residential precinct, the Civic will be strengthened as an educational and cultural hub, and the West End will emerge as the city’s commercial hub.

It isn’t news the revitalisation plan we announced last year included changes to the rail line – changes that replace a 19th century solution to coal freighting need to a 21st century approach to an efficient transport system and beautification of a city.

While some people hold the rail line dear – and there is no doubt it has important historic and cultural significance – its day has been and gone.

Moving forward without the burden of nostalgia is critical to the revitalisation of Newcastle and yesterday’s announcement that a new light rail option will go ahead is an incredible opportunity for the region. Initially the line will be between Wickham and Newcastle, but $10million will also go towards exploring the potential for linking the CBD with suburbs and town centres.

Light rail will greatly improve amenity in the CBD by removing heavy rail infrastructure from the centre of the city, with passengers transferring to light rail at an interchange offering regular services into Newcastle. It’s a transport system that has worked all over the world and will enable traffic and pedestrians to move freely in a way heavy rail cannot.

There is no doubt the Hunter Region is a unique and beautiful place to be. We are lucky enough to have stewardship of rich natural environments, as well as a backbone of industry, education and innovation. The Hunter Region deserves a CBD that is on par with everything else it has to offer.

Andrew Cornwell is the state Liberal member for Charlestown.

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