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OPINION: Co-ordination of city rejuvenation critical

by September 12, 2016 General

PHILLIP O’Neill’s column on Monday reminds us that in government no good deed goes unpunished. He shows us it is easier to be a critic than an advocate – easier to follow than to lead.

In 2013 the NSW government established UrbanGrowth NSW to drive urban renewal, particularly in places where the private sector couldn’t easily deliver outcomes on their own.   With a focus on meeting the state’s unmet housing needs, driving jobs growth and optimising public investment in infrastructure, UrbanGrowth NSW has a clear mandate for urban renewal.

We are working on six major projects across the state – the Newcastle Urban Renewal and Transport Program, the Parramatta Road Urban Renewal Program, the Central to Eveleigh Urban Renewal and Transport Program, Green Square Town Centre, Parramatta North Urban Renewal and the most recent addition – The Bays Precinct Urban Renewal Program.

This mix of projects demonstrates a commitment beyond the boundaries of the City of Sydney. They are complex projects requiring co-ordination by government to get public and private owners and the community together to achieve renewal.

No one can dispute that Newcastle CBD has suffered for too many years from the lack of a co-ordinated approach to planning.

The heart of Newcastle had been all but abandoned as governments refused to see a vision for Newcastle beyond the rail line that divides the city from its waterfront.

Two decisions by the NSW government in recent years have shown a commitment to renewal of the city – UrbanGrowth NSW’s purchase of two-thirds of the former David Jones site in Hunter Street Mall from The GPT Group, and the decision to truncate heavy rail and replace it with light rail.

The 240-hectare Newcastle Urban Renewal and Transport Program area encompasses 60hectares of government-owned land. We are engaging the community and stakeholders from across the Hunter including Hunter Health, the University of Newcastle, the Ethnic Communities Council, Regional Development Australia Hunter, and Hunter Tourism.

As with The Bays Precinct, we are bringing leading international expertise to Newcastle.

After a competitive tender process, international design practice Hassell Studio has been appointed to provide “world’s best ideas” for the Newcastle plan. Planners from Hassell’s offices in London and Singapore visited Newcastle in June and are now contributing to the development of the plan, and members of Hassell’s Sydney design studio are participating in this weekend’s workshops with the community. 

Other experts include Dr Tim Williams, a board member of Newcastle-based Compass Housing and CEO of the Committee for Sydney, and Marcus Westbury, founder of Renew Newcastle. 

And the public will get a say. Community groups have been invited to register to attend a full-day workshop to discuss the summit outcomes. The public will also be encouraged to comment once the final draft of the urban renewal plan has been finalised.

Major urban renewal projects are never easy. That’s why they are years in the planning and the delivery. But we are setting the framework for urban renewal projects to succeed whether they are in inner Sydney, Western Sydney or the state’s second city, through a combination of the government’s commitment, public consultation, and expertise. 

The cold chill of cynicism will not deter the overwhelming majority of people who agree that something must be done to revive the dead heart of the CBD.

John Brogden is chairman of UrbanGrowth NSW