• Michelle Meehan | intouch Magazine

NEWCASTLE | Towards 2020


The Newcastle landscape has been slowly changing during the past few decades, shedding its predominantly industrial past for a more diversified commercial and residential future. This transformation has been accelerating in the past few years thanks to the investment being made by Newcastle City Council, along with government and corporate sectors.

As we head towards 2020, we take a look at the factors making Newcastle an even more appealing destination for businesses, residents and tourists. Images courtesy of Destination NSW and Newcastle City Council.

BUSINESS

The economic direction of Newcastle has been undergoing a transformation since the closure of the BHP Steelworks in 1999.

For almost two decades the city has been transitioning away from a primarily industrial base to one with a diverse framework of business and commercial pillars.

And while Newcastle’s past may lie in its blue collar reputation as a “steel city,” the key to its ongoing economic strength is ensuring it embraces a “smart city” future.

A core group of stakeholders are working together to drive this revitalisation, with Newcastle City Council at the forefront of the change.

The Council has been preparing the Newcastle Smart City Initiative, a multi-pronged approach designed to improve livability, sustainability and economic diversity, develop local innovation, build an international profile and attract investment into the city.

One of the first elements of this unveiled to the public is the $17.8 million Hunter Innovation Project (HIP), which is a collaboration between the Council, the University of Newcastle, Newcastle Now and Hunter DiGiT.

Heralded as “a giant leap forward for the Hunter Region into the digital age”, the HIP will include the installation of smart technology and free Wi-Fi throughout Newcastle’s CBD and the establishment of an innovation hub for researchers, industry and entrepreneurs on the corner of King and Auckland Streets to commercialise ideas and promote economic development.

It is being funded via a $9.8 million commitment from the NSW Government, with the project partners chipping in the remaining $8 million.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the “smart city” infrastructure will allow businesses and local innovators to leverage the region’s strengths in advanced manufacturing, health technology, renewable energy and education, while also acting as a real driver for greater business investment in the CBD.

“The Hunter Innovation Project is a collaborative effort and a key component of Council’s Smart City strategy to provide physical spaces, digital connectivity and city-data to increase opportunity for entrepreneurs and businesses to thrive in the digital century,” Cr Nelmes said.

“It will provide smart city infrastructure like Wi-Fi, smart parking and lighting, and an innovation hub where sharp thinkers can put their minds together to make our city and region a better place to live, work, visit and invest.

“The Council’s role is actually hard-wiring the city, we’re looking at a precinct that is fibre to the premise as opposed to fibre to the node.

“Every other business area or CBD area that has been able to do that immediately attracts a level of investment because people can work on the fastest internet speeds from that particular precinct.

“It’s almost like the modern day version of laying a good highway, except that it’s a super highway of fibres and cables.”

But creating a fibre backbone for the city isn’t the only infrastructure priority the Council is concerned about as part of its push to encourage more investment into Newcastle, according to Interim CEO Frank Cordingley.

“The other thing is to make the infrastructure that people use when they get into the city better,” he said.

“One of the issues we do have is that we are a very old city, the second oldest in NSW and that means there’s a lot of infrastructure, particularly in the CBD area, that has to be renewed mainly to support growth.

“We’ve been ramping up our spend on infrastructure, the backlog for a while has been sitting at about $94 million and over the last five years we’ve ramped up our spend just on major maintenance items from about $15 million a year to $40 million a year this year.

“We spent another $40 million on top of that on new infrastructure, so the $40 million I’m talking about is just to renew what exists. Some of that is things like the sandstone building next door, the Town Hall, that’s our number one backlog item and that’s going to cost us about $20 million ultimately to refurbish the outer skin.

“Now it’s excellent that other owners of sandstone buildings in the city like the University of Newcastle at Nesca House next door are doing the same sort of thing. So in a year or so, when those two buildings are finished, and the new University campus opens next year, this precinct is going to look marvellous compared to what it looked like previously."

Upgrading roads and footpaths in the CBD is also high on the infrastructure backlog list, as is renewing the century-old drainage in areas such as Council Street in Cooks Hill, which causes flooding in surrounding streets as well as upstream in the Darby Street commercial precinct during heavy downpours."

Around $1 million will be spent on that project alone during 2016-2017, overhauling the streetscape and replacing the fig trees, whose roots are causing damage to the road surface and the drainage system, with more suitable varieties.

Mr. Cordingley said completing these projects helped provide business with a greater level of confidence to invest in the area.

Among those investing heavily in the city centre is the University of Newcastle. Aside from their involvement in the HIP,the University will cement its clear commitment to the future of the CBD when it opens its NewSpace campus on Hunter Street next year.

The $95 million landmark education precinct will predominantly be used for the delivery of its business and law programs and is ideally situated down the road from the $90 million Newcastle Courthouse development opened by the State Government this year.

Helping to facilitate both these projects was also part of the Hunter Street Revitalisation Strategic Framework, a shared community vision endorsed by the Council in 2010. It included 44 priority actions that were identified to help drive the revitalisation of the Newcastle city centre, with 75 per cent of those either underway or already completed.

Of course the major projects within the Strategic Framework centre on collaboration with other stakeholders such as the State Government.

It is these actions that will have the greatest impact on changing the face of the city centre and include projects such as the Newcastle Light Rail and Wickham Transport Interchange, redevelopment of the Hunter Street Mall precinct and the Urban Growth NSW Rail Corridor Planning Proposal.

Cr Nelmes said collaboration was the key not just to these projects, but to the whole process of revitalising the Newcastle CBD. But not surprisingly, many of the other priority actions within the Hunter Street Revitalisation Strategic Framework are Council-centric initiatives designed to encourage greater business investment in the city.

This includes everything from reducing costs and fast tracking the approval process to enable additional outdoor dining areas, to encouraging more than $650,000 worth of face lifts to be completed by private landowners and government stakeholders on CBD buildings as part of a façade improvement program.

The Council has also worked on a number of policies and plans to facilitate business growth, including a business retention scheme and a night time economy strategy.

“The best thing we can do (to encourage growth) is make life easier… in terms of establishing a business,” Mr Cordingley said.

“Within the CBD area we have a lower section 94 contribution than we have in the rest of the LGA to encourage business to come here. We’ve had over $3 billion of DAs (development applications) come in (across the LGA) over the last five years and in the last couple of years that’s really ramped up.

“That’s challenged us in moving them through the system quickly, and we’ve had to put on extra staff to make sure we keep facilitating that process so it makes it easier for business to actually establish here.”

RESIDENTS The Council has also worked on a number of policies and plans to facilitate business growth, including a business retention scheme and a night time economy strategy.

“The best thing we can do (to encourage growth) is make life easier… in terms of establishing a business,” Mr Cordingley said.

“Within the CBD area we have a lower section 94 contribution than we have in the rest of the LGA to encourage business to come here. We’ve had over $3 billion of DAs (development applications) come in (across the LGA) over the last five years and in the last couple of years that’s really ramped up.

“That’s challenged us in moving them through the system quickly, and we’ve had to put on extra staff to make sure we keep facilitating that process so it makes it easier for business to actually establish here.”

Of course, many of those DAs have actually been for residential projects, with the city centre in the midst of an apartment building boom. Mr. Cordingley said there were 30 residential projects worth around $1.6 billion in the pipeline at the moment, with the developments either approved or in construction.

These equate to an addition of around 3000 apartments within the city’s east and west ends, ensuring a huge influx of residents into the CBD area for many years to come.

This in itself is crucial for the future of the city centre, which needs to continue attracting a mix of workers, residents and tourists to ensure it not only survives but thrives.

“When it’s only a commercial district you have people coming into the city in the daytime that then go home at night,” Mr. Cordingley said.

“But because more people are living here now, they are there 24 hours a day and so it makes better use of the infrastructure that you already have. It also puts pressure on it, so you have to keep maintaining it and making it look attractive.

“One of the key aspects of the Hunter Street Revitalisation is to make our streetscapes look attractive and a key thrust of that is to get more trees on the streets, get wider footpaths, get outdoor dining and facilities for cyclists, bike racks so people can store their bikes when they come into the city and safe routes to get in here.

“They’re the sort of things driving us to do more of that urban renewal type of work, to make the streetscapes more attractive.

“The increase in residential developments attracts businesses to the city too because when you’ve got people living here they want places to eat, they want places to entertain themselves, they want to be able to get coffees and all that really livens up the city and gives you your 24-hour economy.”

Among the developers entrenched in the Newcastle residential building boom is the locally-owned Stronach Property. The company has a strong track record of delivering high-quality residential developments in the heart of the city including the City Extra apartments on part of the former Newcastle Herald site and the Arvia Apartments on the corner of Watt Street and The Esplanade. Stronach’s current projects include the highly popular Arena Apartments, located on part of the former Royal Newcastle Hospital site overlooking Newcastle Beach.

The 227-apartment development is worth around $100 million, with the final stage expected to be completed by early to mid-2017.

Other major apartment developments on the way for Newcastle include Miller Property Corporation’s $130 million Verve Residences on King Street. Comprising of 197 units, the showpiece of the development will be two 19-storey, 66m-high towers, which offer harbour views from the seventh storey up.

Across the road will be the $40 million Spire Apartments, comprising of 161 units across three residential towers constructed on top of Marketown East by the shopping centre’s owners Gennie Holdings Pty Ltd.

The most recent residential development to be unveiled will take pride of place on harbourside land at Honeysuckle and will be the first construction within the waterfront precinct in more than a decade. Hunter Development Corporation (HDC) announced last month it had selected the Doma Group to redevelop the prime 7300 square metre Lee Wharf site, with the concept plan including three residential buildings and some ground floor commercial spaces.

HDC Acting General Manager Valentina Misevska said the development would be a “significant contributor to the Government’s broader urban revitalisation program in the Newcastle city centre.”

“The Doma Group’s concept, being designed by SJB Architects, provides for a mix of 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and individual townhouses with some retail activation at ground floor. We expect a development application for this project to be submitted in the coming months. Subject to development approval, it is anticipated that construction could commence on site in the later part of 2017.”

TOURISM But it’s not just an influx of residents on their way to make the most of Newcastle’s city centre.

Attracted by its beautiful beaches and cosmopolitan lifestyle, the area continues to be a hot spot for travellers – a situation the Council and other stakeholders are keen to build upon with a range of initiatives.

One of the most impressive of those is the Council’s 6 km Bathers Way project. Once the upgrade is complete, the 4-6 m wide path will stretch from the Merewether Ocean Baths through to Nobbys Beach, linking the city’s world-famous beaches and forming part of the Great North Walk from Merewether to Sydney.

With sweeping views of the coastline, it is the perfect place for both residents and tourists alike to truly appreciate one of the most popular features of Newcastle, enhanced by a series of new viewing platforms, seating and shade structures also installed by the Council.

The project, which is halfway complete, also connects to the popular Newcastle Memorial Walk that links Newcastle’s Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach.

Another permanent addition to the Newcastle coastline designed to increase visitor numbers in the city is the recently announced multi-purpose cruise terminal facility at the Port of Newcastle. With a $12.7 million commitment from the State Government, the project will secure the long-term future of the city’s burgeoning cruise economy at Carrington.

Since ships began berthing there in 2010, the city has played host to 66 cruise liners, bringing thousands of new visitors to the city.

And thousands more are expected to converge on Newcastle for a very different reason in coming years thanks to a collaboration between the Council and Destination NSW.

Newcastle has won the right to host the final round of the Australian Supercar Championships for five years from 2017, with the track to be set up around the inner city and Newcastle foreshore. Cr Nelmes said securing the event, which is watched by millions of people around the world, will provide a massive boost to the local hospitality and tourism industries and showcase the region to potential tourists, investors and even future residents.

“The Championships are an international event that represents a massive economic win and major accolade for Newcastle on the world stage,” she said.

“Supercars will provide an enormous boost to the local hospitality and tourism industry of up to $50 million each year and generate incredible exposure for our region.

“With a potential international TV audience in the millions, the event will showcase the city and our beautiful coastal setting in full glory at a beautiful time of year.” ■

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