Saturday, December 18, 2010

Re-imagining Newcastle - suggestions

In my last post, Re-imagining Newcastle - and the North, I concluded by saying that in my next post I would:

risk my hand by painting a vision of Newcastle's future. It is a risk because I do not live there, do not pretend to be an expert on on-ground conditions.

In doing something like this, it's generally a good idea to begin by laying down some general principles. The point about principles is that they help generate new ideas while providing a base against which proposed actions can be judged. They also make it easier for people to understand just what is proposed. If you go straight to actions, then you risk ending up with the type of mess you so often see in NSW.

I propose the following principles:

  1. Proposed actions should enhance Newcastle's life style. To my mind, life style is one of the best things Newcastle has going for it. We want to build on that. We have already seen the power of life style in the way that Melbourne has reinvented itself as compared to Sydney.
  2. We don't want to add people just for the sake of adding people. There is something highly mechanistic about current NSW planning approaches. The projections say this, we will do that. What Newcastle really needs are more higher level jobs. Otherwise, and as we have seen on the North Coast, population growth can actually lower an area's relative economic standing.
  3. Newcastle's growth should not come at the expense of surrounding areas. To illustrate with a local example, promotion of Newcastle should not preclude promotion of Maitland or, more broadly, an Armidale or a Grafton. One problem with the promotion of Sydney as in brand Sydney has been the way in which it sucks oxygen from other places.
  4. Following from 3, Newcastle's development should add to development elsewhere. Very specifically, it should improve the economic integration of New England as a whole.

Given these principles, I suggest the following policy initiatives and for the following reasons:

  1. Further development of Williamtown as a major domestic and international airport. I recognise that there are issues here such as inconvenience to those under the flight path, as well as funding questions. However, if Newcastle is to develop as a centre in its own right and not just become a Sydney dormitory, then it needs to be able to bring people direct to the city, for people to be able to go direct from the city. This will also benefit areas further north. Such development need not preclude development elsewhere such as expansion of Coffs Harbour airport.
  2. Promotion of Newcastle as a direct travel destination and as an entry point to Northern NSW, the broader New England. Again, this need not preclude other places adopting somewhat similar strategies. The aim should be to increase the total number of visitors in New England.
  3. A cultural development strategy intended to build and promote both overall cultural activities and Newcastle's special features. I am of the view that far too few people actually know that Newcastle has its own cultural tradition. I, for one, did not know the scale of this until I started writing on it. Even now, I have only scratched the surface. This type of promotion not only brings visitors, but adds to local lifestyle.   
  4. Further development of specialist services servicing a broader Northern market and also the Central Coast. Again, this need not preclude developments further North if the aim is fair sharing. Examples include:
    1. Development of Newcastle as a sporting centre. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Jets are promoted just as a Newcastle team when we have a Northern NSW Soccer League. Yes, I understand that there are myopias on both sides, but the broader New England really should be seen as a feeder area.
    2. Further development of specialist medical services in Newcastle. This is already happening to some degree. One present limitation is transport. For many, it is easier to get to Sydney even if Newcastle is closer.
    3. Better integration between New England's universities to allow for more resource sharing and relative specialisations. A classic example here is the joint NU/UNE rural medical school. This benefits both NU and UNE, but also benefits New England. The simple analysis I have done suggests that there is considerable scope for further cooperation to the benefit of all.
  5. Better integration in transport planning. I do not pretend to understand all the issues associated with transport inside Newcastle. However, as a general comment, transport planning appears to focus at the moment on either locality or locality to Sydney. There appears to be very little focus on transport to and from Newcastle. Yet if Newcastle is to develop in the way I am talking about, people in the Hunter and broader New England have to be able to get to and from Newcastle more easily.

This post has, I suspect, barely touched the surface as to what might be possible in the longer term if only we can look at things in new ways.

I emphasise longer term. Change just takes time and has usually to be done in small chunks.

In this context, I think that Greg is right in his comment on an earlier post that some things can't happen without self-government for the North. There are just too many conflicts, too many compromises, built into the existing system to allow for proper recognition of the needs of any particular area. That said, I also think that I am right when I wrote:             

Re-imagining the North is hard. But in doing so, we achieve a number of things. We get New Englanders to again think of themselves as a unit. We force Sydney responses. And we start to lay down a platform - a set of ideas - that our own Government can implement.

What do you think?


Augustus Winston said...

Hi Jim

I agree with some of the comments regarding Newcastle but I think that to really set it apart , to make an impact, to lay claim to its own personality it needs to change its name. Yes you heard that correctly I am proposing that Newcastle re-invent itself by renaming. As we know Newcastle was named after the english city Newcastle -on -Tyne and there are similarities with its older brother (or sister). Shipbuilding steelworks river and so forth. Case in point-imagine if rather than going to the trouble of thinking up a new name for Sydney they just called it Merseyside or South Yorkshire. I suspect we would be having the same discussion about Sydney as we are about Newcastle. The fact that its in New England only make matters worse. I am aware of the cost of such a move (reprint letterheads, signposts and postcode booklets) but the benefits of having something truly Australian would outweigh the inconvenience. Jim, as a champion of the cause to raise this city to new heights increase its profile I look forward eagerly to your thoughts on my proposal. This is not an entirely new idea think of the Australian anthem, so maybe an international competition to think up a new name for Newcastle would be the spot.


Jim Belshaw said...

You are a brave man, Augustus! Re-naming is re-imagining on a large scale. It could be used to re-launch Newcastle, but then you have to establish a new image rather than build on the past.

Greg said...

Not as silly as it might first seem Augustus.

The Awabakal name for Newcastle was Muloobinba. I have often thought that the city could set itself apart by having all the indigenous names signposted alongside the European names with the meaning and maybe a brief history of the area and it's significance to the Awabakal and Worimi people.

The European name of Newcastle is probably here to stay. But maybe a wider use of the name Port Hunter might be a marketing tool. Port Hunter certainly conjures a different mental image (ie. water) to Newcastle (coal and industry) even though they are one and the same place.

I think that Newcastle will never be able to compete with the brand of Sydney which is simply overwhelming. But it can position itself as something different and unique. Bohemian, arty, quirky, alternative and interesting. It is all of those things but it is not very good at selling that to outsiders.

What it does seriously lack is infrastructure. Public transport in particular is poor and you get the sense that the CBD is no longer at the heart of the action. A city needs a CBD - a focal point and a heart.

Public transport (eg. reintroduction of trams/light rail) could help recreate a sense of the CBD as a destination as well as re-kindle a sense of unity which seems to have been lost. The city has become too fragmented and factional - several competing cities within a city with no unifying sense of purpose. The lack of public transport does not help that.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting comments, Greg. I will pick these comments and others up in a later post.

Anonymous said...

Newcastle has been deliberately left down trodden by the policies of labor governments that siphon money away to Sydney and the subsequent brain drain that occurs to Sydney.

Newcastle can never replace Sydney but it can offer an experience of a culturally rich, sophisticated smaller city perhaps like Cardiff in the UK, Lyon in France or Barcelona in Spain.

To achieve this it needs two things - infrastructure and jobs. The train line needs to be maintained and expanded upon. New (old) lines put out to the suburbs to improve connectivity and bring life style benefits.

A new world class sporting stadium, to host national rugby, union and league teams and soccer and cricket. Better train connectivity to Sydney and most of all jobs.

The public service needs to have some head departments in Newcastle. Some of the Coal companies based in the valley need to have corporate head quarters there, etc. Once you get these high end jobs then money and investment as well as lifestyle bonuses such as good restaurants will flow!

Good luck with your new state campaign.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you anon. I am going to bring your comment up as a full post.