Roles in shaping city ‘too close for comfort’

AN ‘‘irreconcilable conflict’’ between the government’s roles as both developer and planner in the Newcastle city centre has undermined public confidence in the planning system and must be swiftly addressed, a parliamentary inquiry has found, as reported by the Newcastle Herald.

The dual roles, in the form of the Department of Planning and government property developer UrbanGrowth NSW, need to be separated to dispel the ‘‘perception’’ that the private sector had influenced key decisions, the inquiry recommended in its final report into city planning handed down on Tuesday.

The only findings made were about Hunter Development Corporation general manager Bob Hawes, for a ‘‘significant and ongoing conflict of interest’’ relating to his ownership of properties at Wickham where a new transport interchange is planned.

The inquiry also rebuked the corporation and its board for failing to adequately address the conflict of interest, which it said ‘‘has damaged public confidence in the integrity of the Hunter Development Corporation and public decision-making in Newcastle’’ and the broader region. Mr Hawes reportedly recently sold the properties.

It questioned the ‘‘appropriateness of the commercial partnership’’ between UrbanGrowth and the GPT Group, where the private company sold two-thirds of its Hunter Street mall holdings to the government under an agreement for a joint redevelopment.

The inquiry said the truncation of the  rail line should not have  proceeded on Boxing Day, and it remained convinced that the truncation decision was based on a ‘‘flawed cost benefit analysis’’.

Read the full report in the Newcastle Herald.