Giant cranes a sign of a city stirring to life

AFTER years of decline and stagnation, there are enough positivesigns to say with some assurance that the Newcastle central business district is coming back to life.
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The latest indication came on Wednesday with an announcement of a new high-rise residential and commercial property development between King Street and Hunter Street, at Cottage Creek in the city’s west end.Together with the Spire apartment buildings now going upon top of the nearby Marketown Shopping Centre, the $130-million 19-storey Verve apartments are a sign of confidence in the western end of the city:a precinctproposed by thestate government and Newcastle City Council as the high-rise apex of the re-imagined city.

Add in the Doma Group’s A-grade office space at 18 Honeysuckle Drive, the spectacular new University of Newcastle campus at Civic and the newly completed law court building, and it’s fair to say that it’s been a whileindeed since the city has seen asmany construction cranes at the one time.

The state government would no doubt say theseprojects are a sign that its “Revitalising Newcastle” plans areworking. Equally, it could also be said thatthese buildings have gone upbeforelight rail isintroduced, and that political decisions have had little if any role in this welcomespurt of development.

Either way, as Transport and Infrastructure Minister Andrew Constance made clear in his visit to Newcastle on Tuesday, the government is determined to go ahead with its light rail plans, regardless of any criticism. As far as it isconcerned, it istime to “embrace” the opportunity and stop “being negative” about “the opportunity” the government isgiving to the region.

But as the minister surely knows, politics in Newcastle is rarely straightforward.

Some mightcall former lord mayor Jeff McCloya hypocrite, but in criticising a light rail he once enthusiastically supported, MrMcCloy isvoicing the sort of concerns that are worrying a growing number of people, as light rail morphs from the vague possibilities of an artist’s impression to a real-life confrontation with disruption and change.

It is impossible to over-estimate the influence of the light rail project on the city’s future.

The imminent release of the government’s Review of Environmental Factors will give the public an overdue look at some of the hard detail that has been missing until now.

The rail debate may yet be far from over.

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