Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dear Colleagues,
A quick rundown on the Rail issue Newcastle which started in  May 1988 with the Hirst Consulting Services P/L NEWCASTLE CBD BUSINESS PLAN and is now part of the Baird Government’s sell off of public assets.

Mike Baird thinks he is a once in a lifetime opportunity for NSW to sell off public assets  and buy the infrastructure that we all know we need!  Look what he did for Newcastle. He sold off the Port of Newcastle 98year Lease and with some of the money he started the destruction of the Newcastle rail infrastructure and he now tells us he intends to sell that too for nice waterfront buildings.

He thinks truncating (closing) rail services to Newcastle is a good thing and that’s what Labor wanted to do anyway. Mike doesn’t understand that the labor woman in the seat of Newcastle was voted out last election basically because she was going to close the railway.

Ironically it was the not so honest Right Wing of the ALP that put the former ALP Member in the seat and finally undermined her to get rid of her too. Sadly for Newcastle it got a not so honest Liberal Party to replace her. The Liberal Party just listened to the same vested interested  ALP/Lib property lobbyists rather than help instigate the good transparent governance that the we so desperately needed. Now the Liberal Member has had to depart the scene disgraced by the revelations in ICAC before he could be voted out.

1)      No Hunter candidate who has promised to close rail services has ever been elected.
2)      No Hunter politician who has promised to close rail services has ever been re-elected.
3)      The three recent elections in the Hunter have returned candidates who have promised to return rail services.

The ‘Remove the Newcastle Railway & Open the City for Real Development’ Lobby groups’ were the City centre Committee 1988, The Newcastle Alliance 2000, and the Newcastle Now 2012 (Newcastle Business Improvement Association Inc). These groups were all established by the Newcastle City Council and well funded since 1988 through the Council’s committee system. They seemed to have operated outside of Council but helped along with a 9% Special Rate Levy on CBD properties.  They were originally setup to improve commerce and encourage vitality but they became the lobbyists for removal of Rail services and for property interests. One would have hoped that a Councillors who wanted to keep passenger rail services to Newcastle would have acted over the years in the Newcastle Council to oversee the way rate funds were used by these committees.

It doesn’t look as if ICAC can now look at these committees, the Carpet-man or former Lord Mayors.

On top of normal Council operations Newcastle has had the powerful HDC in Newcastle’s central area with $100milion Commonwealth seed funding. It has operated as a not so transparent  planning and development arm of Government. HDC was formerly the Honeysuckle Development Corporation and has had the removal of rail services as a principal part of its Approved Scheme since 1993. Successive Ministers for Planning have never bothered to see that HDC varied their Approved Scheme in accord with the  Growth Centres Act 1974.
Old Newcastle is a unique and precious heritage town with its Cathedral on the Hill and its birth site at Nobbys and Colliers Point. Planners should  identify the good things and encourage commerce and vitality.

The Baird Government mired itself in bad faith at Newcastle with its disgraced members and in arbitrarily starting the rail closure without transparency or parliamentary approval.  Baird should bring back the  passenger rail service and replace  the rail crossings taken away in recent years by the HDC straight-jacket planning.

All political parties should know that closing railways in this day and age is not a vote winner. I hope that the ALP is returned at the election on the 28th March and is able to restart the Newcastle revitalization in a transparent way and restore Passenger Rail services to Newcastle as promised.

Doug Lithgow     Freeman of the City of Newcastle & President of P&PM

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Another Sad Planning Saga for Newcastle - Public Accountability is Needed

Newcastle was a leader in Town  Planning up until the December 1989 Earthquake and with the establishment of  the Honeysuckle Development Corporation with its 1993 approved scheme and Concept Masterplan. This created a non-transparent quasi planning authority in conflict with the statutory planning machinery of the State that ordinary people can see and comply with.

This conflict played havoc in the Newcastle the City Council when HDC wrongly called for expressions of interest for its first Central Honeysuckle development at Merewether Street Wharf before planning proposal had been officially gazetted.  Appallingly Newcastle councillors were blamed and their Consent Authority status for Central Honeysuckle was taken over by the Minister.  Later the HDC closed off and built out the Merewether Street View Corridor to the Harbour.

Deplorably the HDC has not had an appropriate ‘Approved Scheme’ as required by statute to guide the development of their gazetted Growth Centre.  Furthermore following their failure to vary their scheme to comply with the Regional Environmental Plan (Central Honeysuckle) made by  Minister Knowles in December 1997 they have been unrestrained without an approved public Scheme.  Outrageously a new HDC Scheme was only secretly given approval by Minister Hazzard in  September 2012 even though the Growth Centre was enlarged in 2008 to encompasses every Local Government area in the Hunter Region. The Parks Movement is on record that it had been asking that the HDC vary its scheme in a transparent way to bring it up-to-date and comply with the Growth Centres Act.

The recent collusion between the Minister for Planning and the Minister for Transport culminating in compulsory acquisition orders  issued the 17th and 19th December  implementing a device aimed to confuse the people of the region and bypass the NSW Parliament to close the Newcastle railway is unpardonable. It is in direct contravention of section 99A of the Transport Administration Act and transfers the land and rail infrastructure to Hunter Development Corporation who have never been an appropriate transport authority.

This sad planning saga can only be given clear direction by a comprehensive public planning commission of inquiry.

Doug Lithgow
President, Parks and Playgrounds Movement
Freeman of the City of Newcastle