BUDGET: Business upbeat over rail decision

By , 10/07/2019 12:24

PEAK business and developer groups yesterday applauded the government’s decision to seek a long-term lease for the Port of Newcastle to help revitalise the inner-city, including a light rail service.

Hunter Business Chamber president Richard Anicich said it was ‘‘big dollars’’ for a ‘‘new Newcastle’’ that was desperately needed.

‘‘This is about reinventing Newcastle, providing a more effective transport system in and around the city and opening access to the harbour,’’ Mr Anicich said.

He said the chamber had long argued for the preservation of the corridor for the use of light rail when funding was available and the budget decision sought to ‘‘fast track the optimal solution’’.

Hunter Development Corporation chairman Paul Broad said the additional $340million in CBD funding (stemming from an anticipated $700million windfall from the port lease) would allow the city to ‘‘aim higher and get moving’’.

“By lifting the funding commitment, the government has made it possible to consider light rail in the vision of a revitalised city centre,’’ he said.

The Property Council of Australia’s NSW regional director Andrew Fletcher said placing light rail as the centrepiece of the city’s urban renewal strategy was a ‘‘win-win’’ for the city.

‘‘Light rail is more compatible with the broader agenda for renewal and will ensure the debate around people being able to travel into the CBD ends today,’’ he said.

Mr Fletcher praised Planning Minister Brad Hazzard’s comment that the light rail decision would provide the ‘‘potential basis’’ for a wider light rail service linking the CBD with surrounding beaches and suburbs.

‘‘Turbo-charging the transport solution will sustain the city for decades to come and make Newcastle a magnet for further investment.’’

Alan Squire, head of lobby group Hunter Transport for Business Development, said that while it was a shame the light rail system was conditional on the lease deal, it was a step forward.

‘‘It’s exactly what we asked the government to do … and it needs to happen sooner than later,’’ he said.

Labor’s federal candidate for the seat of Newcastle, Sharon Claydon, slammed the government for ‘‘short changing’’ the Hunter.

“The Port of Newcastle contributes $70million a year to the NSW coffers [yet] Barry O’Farrell is happy to sell it off on a 99-year lease for 10 years worth of revenue,’’ she said.

‘‘Over 99 years our port could make $16billion for the state, but will be sold for just $700million.’’

Mrs Claydon said the budget was devoid of sweeteners for the region.

“All we get from the selloff of the biggest coal port in the world is a one-kilometre tram line replacing a one-kilometre train line,’’ she said.

“There is no money for the Newcastle art gallery, no money for the inner city bypass to be completed, no money for a new Tourle Street bridge.’’

Hunter Business Chamber president Richard Anicich said the long term plan to lease the port and provide light rail was ‘‘big dollars’’ for a ‘‘new Newcastle’’ .

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