Inquiry on the planning process in Newcastle and the Hunter region hearing #2

Here are some highlights of the second hearing of the Inquiry into the Planning Process in Newcastle and the Hunter Region, as reported on the Newcastle Herald’s live blog.

University of Newcastle representatives Nat McGregor (chief operating officer) … tells Labor’s Lynda Voltz the university has no position in the rail line debate and is focused on its students.

The [university’s] move into the city is not contingent on the rail’s removal, he says, and the university’s focus is its students

He says the rail line “never came into the business case” and was unable to explain how a Hunter Development Corporation cost-benefit analysis prepared by consultants said the move was predicated on the rail’s removal.

Tim Crakanthorp refers to a “secretive and private” group involved in decisions during his opening statement. He mentions former Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy and GPT.

“There’s nothing wrong with landholders benefitting from government decisions … but the problem we have is the government has not disclosed its processes or advice.”

Releasing all documents would dispel the idea of corruption, he said.

“The problem with [light rail on] Hunter street is it’s going to cost a significant amount of money, number one,” Mr Crakanthorp said.

He cites engineers telling him confidentially there were major problems with that route, particularly with narrowing on Hunter Street near Scott Street.

Ms Grierson has said she believes a range of planning authorities including UrbanGrowth NSW were “improperly influenced” by illegal donations.

“I raise allegations that I am aware of that the rail corridor in the city area could become a car park,” she said.

“In Newcastle people talk and you can try to keep things secret, you can try to keep them private, but it just doesn’t happen.”

Ms Grierson said she believed the shortfall in on-site parking at the University of Newcastle campus was a “deliberate ploy” that would result in parking infrastructure on the rail corridor.

“I believe there are plans afoot to build a car park,” she said.

Greens committee member David Shoebridge said the cost-benefit analysis was “fundamentally flawed” as it assumed the university of Newcastle’s inner city move was contingent on the truncation, a fact disputed by university representatives earlier in Friday’s hearing.

“It’s never been corrected and you know that,” Mr Shoebridge said, drawing applause.

Mr Squire invited the inquiry to consider that the government had refused to release cost-benefit analyses.

“It’s significant they haven’t done that,” he said.

He suggested that indicated the analyses either did not exist or contradicted the decision to proceed with the truncation.

We are in a position now where the only cost-benefit analysis is that one which has been discredited.

“That’s just symptomatic of how the planning processes have gone wrong here.”

Mr Squire seized on the topic of the cost-benefit, adding he believed both Hunter Development Corporation and UrbanGrowth had stakes in the rail line’s removal that motivated them to seek its removal.

“It seems there are lots of conflicts of interest,” Mr Squire said.

“There is no cost-benefit whatsoever.”

The decision to run light rail down Hunter Street was not based on evidence that would withstand professional scrutiny.

Mr Squires said it was pure “waste” to remove the rail line to replace it on Hunter Street.

Dr Boyd said using the existing corridor was off the cards when discussing the light rail route, while the truncation was off the table at a broader forum in transport.

Mr. Boyd said running light rail down Hunter Street past Scott Street was an “unmitigated disaster”.

“There seems to be no rationale for replacing expensive infrastructure with even more expensive infrastructure,” Dr Boyd said.

Dr Boyd said other options, including sinking the rail line into a tunnel or putting road bridges over the tracks, were still feasible but lacked cost-benefit details.

“The most logical would be to sink the rail line east of Railway Street,” Dr Boyd said.

Rev Nile Fred Nile said the Premier had responded to a request to postpone the Boxing Day truncation works, stating that it would cost roughly $220,000 per week to delay.

Professor Dick said that figure was likely due to contracts entered into on the project and said it was vital the right solution was found.

Our next speaker, Paul Rippon, is proving very popular with the audience, especially with his views about the Crowne Plaza building in Honeysuckle.

“We are in danger of having decisions made now that the residents of Newcastle will pay the price for in decades to come,” he says.

“I want to be sure before some of these irreversible decisions are made that they are indeed the right decisions and I am certainly not convinced of that at the moment.

“Speaking about the rail line, the argument that keeps getting put forward … is the need to connect the harbour to the city.”

“That just seems to be put out as a self-evident truth without any real elaboration. I think there is already a connection to the harbour, certainly there is a pedestrian connection to the harbour. There is not necessarily a good connection by car, so why take a rail line away that is going to put more cars in there, increase traffic, increase congestion. “I must say if connectivity to the harbour is such an important thing then I hope to see a proposal to pull down the Crowne Plaza.”

His final point received rapturous applause.

Our last few speakers have discussed issues of corruption, development and the rail.

The general feel is, perhaps unsurprisingly, one of disillusion.

Read the full article at the Newcastle Herald.