Revitalising Newcastle – Planning to Fail

There is an old saying that failing to plan is planning to fail. Sadly for Newcastle, despite enormous rhetoric, there is a distinct absence of planning. I base this assertion on the latest release from the NSW Planning Minister – the Newcastle City Centre Visualisations. These “visualisations” are made up of 4 artists impressions of a “redeveloped” City Centre. Lets look at each in detail. Visualisation 1 – Newcastle Train Station – this visualisaiton shows this significant public land redeveloped as the STATION MARKETS. There is little detail of what is inside the markets, other than what seems a proliferation of yellow market umbrellas. Of significance is the depiction of a large new building on the site of the current bus station. What is this building for? Visualisation 2 – Foreshore Park – this visualisation shows children playing in a new park located on the existing foreshore reserve to the east of the Queens Wharf complex. In the background, on what is currently Wharf Road, are a number of large grey blocks which depict new buildings roughly to the south east of Queens Wharf. What are these buildings for? Visualisation 3 – Light Rail & Foreshore Connection – this visualization shows a light rail carriage on Hunter Street and a newly paved and landscaped open space connection where Civic Station is currently located. Again in the background, partially hidden by rows of palm trees, are grey blocks representing new buildings on the rail corridor. Visualisation 4 – Aerial View – this visualisation shows the extent of new development envisaged by the State Government over the existing heavy rail line...

Newcastle Future Fund?

Newcastle is developing a history of passionate and peaceful protest.  Look at the Layman Street Figs for example. On the weekend, many people hit the streets to protest the cutting and removal of the rail line between Wickham and Newcastle Stations. The State Government is determined to press ahead with the project with work commencing on Boxing Day, barely 11 days away. As I wrote in a previous blog, I believe that many people object to the project because they fear what will become of the land.  It now seems inevitable that parts of the land will be sold off for redevelopment.  This in and of itself is not a bad thing, so long as the redevelopment is done well. Setting that aside, here is a question to ponder – Why can’t the proceeds of the sale of that land be put into a Newcastle Future Fund? Money from the Fund could only be spent on Newcastle projects.  The Fund could be administered in a completely open and transparent way (a website with audited accounts, for example).  Individuals or groups could apply for grants from the Fund for local projects.   Perhaps the Fund could be used solely for public transport projects? Anyway, my point is that this money should stay in Newcastle and not be absorbed into State Treasury for redistribution elsewhere. Anyone agree?...

Conveyancing Headaches?

Are you buying or selling real estate and have hit a planning or local council issue?   I’ll be the first to admit that planning and local government law in New South Wales has grown ludicrously complex in the last few decades.   The amount of regulation can be mind-boggling and can have significant effects that are not readily apparent until it comes time to sell or purchase.   For example, if you are selling, there may be an order issued by the local council some time ago. This order generally runs with the land, thus making your property far less appealing to prospective purchasers.   As a purchaser, you should ask the vendor for a building certificate or obtain your own. You may love the property but, let’s say, there are issues with the certificate. What should you do?   Does a s.149 Certificate have notes that you find puzzling?   I have over 20 years experience as a local government Planner and Lawyer and can help you make sense of the regulation and make your sale or purchase with peace of mind.   If you are in this position, please give me a call. I would be happy to have a 5 minute chat at no charge to you....

Newcastle Rail Line

On Boxing Day 2014, work will commence on the removal of the rail line between Wickham and Newcastle and the start of a new chapter in the evolution of Newcastle.Whilst the debate has centred around “keep or remove” for many years, the decision to commence removal put an end to that.For mine, I think many people were anti-removal on the basis that they were more concerned about what would happen to the land once the rail line was gone.  The corridor is a substantial piece of land that is well located to the foreshore and the city centre.If there could be guarantees that this would remain public land and that part would be used for public transport, the level of objection would fall.Member for Lake Macquarie, Greg Piper, introduced a private members bill into State Parliament that would have seen the corridor stay as public land with a mix of public uses.  The bill did not gain the support of either major party.It was unsurprising, given the government need for cash, to hear the NSW Premier announce that it would be selling off parts of the rail corridor for redevelopment.The concern for Newcastle will be what gets sold, how it gets sold, where the money goes, who makes the planning controls and who is the decision-making body for any development applications.At this stage, the government is saying that Newcastle City Council would determine such applications.The whole plan seems like a moveable feast, the uncertainty leading to ongoing frustration in the community.Whether you are for or against the removal of the rail line, this is a once in a generation...

Planning for Bikes

Since taking an office in the centre of Newcastle, I have ridden my bike more days than I have driven my car.   The reasons for this are simple – no parking fees, cheaper or zero cost to run, fitness and it is a great way to start the day. There are also the environmental benefits of cycling.   Reading an article today about how far behind Australian cities are on bike planning made me think about what makes it easy for me to commute on a bike. (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-05-30/australia-plays-catch-up-modern-urban-planning-bike-lanes/5488538)   My ride is reasonably flat and at times quite scenic. In that sense it is an easy ride.   Most of my ride is on bike paths, however, there are some scary stretches along busy roads. All I can say is that I was not afraid to deck my bike out with flashing lights and a rear vision mirror to aid in safety. That will not protect me from a P-plater who is texting, but all I can do is lower the risk as best I can.   Risk can only be truly minimised by separating bikes from vehicles. Newcastle has some reasonable or even great bike paths, but there is a strong argument for some more direct paths from the suburbs to the centre.   We also have some great paths that take you to nowhere in the sense that they spit you out onto a busy road, often without any bike lane.  Ever come streaming off the Adamstown end of the Fernleigh Track and wondered, where to from here?   The other key issue for me is...