Saturday, February 12, 2011

Discussion on re-imagining Newcastle continues

On 8 December 2010 I ran Wednesday Forum: Re-imagining Newcastle as an initial attempt to get discussion going on future directions for the North's largest city. I followed this with Re-imagining Newcastle - and the North and then Re-imagining Newcastle - suggestions.

Last week the last post attracted a new comment that I thought that I would run in full.

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.

As it happened, I was in Newcastle today for a new state meeting, and my colleagues were talking about many of the same issues, as was the Newcastle Herald. I thought therefore that I would run the comment in full to continue the discussion. 


Mark said...

Gday Jim, thought that this link to the Newcastle Herald, which highlights the lack of understanding of regional transport issues by the Sydney government would add to this discussion. It is clear from the language, that the local media are more than ever highly sceptical of Sydney. Every day, there is a story or a comment which is critical of the status quo. Hopefully, history can be repeated and northern media and businesses can further highlight these same issues to the voting public! Bring 26th March 2011.

Robin Deusage said...

Hi Jim

I was in Newcastle over the weekend and I must say its not a very nice place. I was at the waterfront restaurant area where they charge Sydney prices for rather ho hum meals. And you only have to go back a few streets to the main shopping area where there is an abundance of closed shops. The place does appear to be in a state of dis-repair. One local proudly told me it had the biggest KFC in the southern hemisphere. How sad. The people seem friendly though. It definately does not seem to have an upbeat vibe at all.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's an interesting story, Mark. I will write a piece on it.

Robin, that's depressing.In fact Newcastle has a lot, all sorts of things are happening there, but the place is so bad at selling it's story. This may sound a contradiction to you point, but it's not.

The problem as I see it, and I am speaking as an outsider, is that Newcastle has become very inward looking. It's a strange mixture of complacent and innovative, of we can't control things and we must do something. It's actually taken a very long time for Novocastrians to get angry to the point that they demand change.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,

I and my family come from Newcastle (6 generations or so), I went to school in Newcastle, Uni in Sydney then I travelled around the world for 10 years spending lots of time in London and Europe. I've come back home in the last 12 months to live in Newcastle.

From my perspective Newcastle has such great potential - it is gifted in situation with beaches and harbour, it has some great old buildings (it is the second old city in Australia not Hobart as is widely reported) and does have a vibrant cultural scene.

However, it is let down by a number of factors. Firstly, its leaders have no vision. They are mostly second rate hacks who lack education and as a result their plans bounce around with the whim of the media's tone.

The lord mayor is not a sophisticated man. His grand scheme for Newcastle is a very expensive car park under civic park, removing the train line and reinvigorating the Hunter St mall with factory outlets (which bizzarely already have a presence in the mall), I'm waiting for his next brainstorm to be making Newcastle the $2 dollar shop capital of NSW!

In this day and age that someone in public office could advocate removing public transport from the CBD of a city and not be condemned as a liability to himself and others, escapes me.

The rail removal is of course a smoke screen, with the only people to benefit the developers who are the recipients of tax payers land for a cheap price.

However, this is indicative of the leadership, small minds with small plans. This is in part due to the brain drain which causes most people in Newcastle that do have some intelligence to leave for greener pastures.

Newcastle's state member has been parachuted into her spot by powerbrokers in Macquarie St and as such she owes no allegiance to local people and can offer no direction other than that given to her by her superiors in Sydney.

Newcastle needs to have some money injected into the place to give it a chance. Its train is a prime example of how badly starved of funds the city is. The train runs between Hunter st and the Honeysuckle precinct, and is often blamed for the cities ills - as it creates a barrier. This is nonsense, and just a reason for the state government to remove it and make some profit selling off the land on which it sits.

However, the 'barrier' the train creates could be removed completely if the government spent an estimated $3 million on level crossings and $20 million on lowering it for the 3 km of its route that it is a barrier.

Another example is the art gallery that has desperately been seeking $3 million to expand to be able to accept touring exhibitions for Europe. But not a cent has been forthcoming.

Newcastle needs some money to provide some public transport, some infrastructure, some cultural institutions and restore some of the old buildings and this in turn will bring higher end jobs which will reinvigorate the city and enable it shake off the unofficial title of bogan capital of Australia.

I don't believe this will ever be forth coming from the current arrangements as Sydney feeds off the regions to fund its own development.

I don;t believe a new state is necessarily the best out come but I hope in aggitating for it positive outcomes can be secured for Newcastle and other regional centres in NSW.

I hope more people jump on the band wagon and extract a better deal for the regions.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Anon. Six generations, wow! I am not going to respond on the detail of your comment tonight because it's late and I need to go to bed! Will respond tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Newcastle is stuffed! Umpteen years of inadequately incompetent (by that I intimate beyond incompetent)city councils/ councillors, aided and abetted by ditto state governments of both flavours, Fawltyesque 'planning decisions' (that's an oxymoron if ever there was one), and an innately bogan population. Newcastle is still trying to recover from being a working class population servicing a small, educated, wealthy mercantile elite (not necessarily all at once or all inclusive). Mark Twain once famously remarked that Newcastle was one long street which had a gentlemen's club at one end (with no gentlemen) and a cemetery at the other which was devoid of bodies. The Newcastle Club (once upon a time The Newcastle Businessmen's Club; it is no longer restricted to business men, or indeed gentlemen; women, referred to as 'ladies' are now admitted to full membership)is now closed for services from after dinner Sat until Monday morning. Rooms are not serviced, and guests make their own breakfast if desired. The cemetery has long since gone, ditto the car dealership which was established there. DJ's have closed their flagship Hunter Street store, so there is no longer an 'upmarket'
retail presence in the inner city. The Hunter Street Mall looks, sounds and smells like the worst back alleys in a 3rd world market. Major public buildings have been on sold or allowed to become derelict (eg the Post Office), with nebulous plans to turn everything imaginable into nightclubs - a move which should really entice more people to move into the remanufactured heritage buildings which have been apartmentalised - who wouldn't want to pay +++$$$ to hose down the drunks, spew, piss nad needles from their front stoop every Sunday morning? Closing Royal N'cle Hospital has caused most medical specialists to suburbanise; the law seems to be the major professional inner city presence. Lower Hunter Street is doomed. Derelict, boarded up buildings, even cheaper and nastier retail outlets, and the Palais facade, which was being retained as the facade of yet another projected 'apartment development to bring people back into the city, blah, blah, blah' now fronting the largest KFC in the southern hemisphere. Wow!!!! Some things about the Newcastle psyche and sense of vision have not changed since a production of 'Dimboola' at the then Workers' Club (now Panthers) failed, because no one realised it was a satire!

Jim Belshaw said...

That's a fairly powerful attack, anon! I will bring a new post up pointing to this one to see if I get further comments. Then I will run another consolidated post perhaps next Monday pulling out all the comments.

Mark said...

Both anons speak the truth about the Newcastle area and its CBD.

I often wondered if it were not for the often disasterous floods of early and later years, Maitland would be the premier city in NSW. It was the literal bread basket of the colony and the gateway to a very rich fertile valley. It's residents were not dictated to by union heavies and voted as they saw fit. But that was pre industrialisation here in Australia and times have changed.

Newcastle and the Hunter need like minded political figures who are allied to one another and share the same vision. So long as there is division in such a small pocket of NSW, they will get nothing.

Robin Desauge said...

Jim the anonymous comments seem to back up my point. Its good to see such alively deabte. A few years ago I was in Muswellbrook. This would have to be the most depressing town I have been in. There was a whole mall that was basically empty. The only thing that kept the town going was the gaol (st Heliers). This sort of rot must be stopped before it can spread. It seems that Newcastle has now sunk into a quagmire of despair. Cassius Clay once said "the ghetto is not in the buildings but in the people". I think he was referring to attitude and people power. Another place very similar is Port Kembla. This is a town of boarded up shops an RSL and not much else. Prostitutes roam the main street freely during the day.

The thing is in the case of Newcastle and Port Kembla they are seaside towns and are both linked to Sydney by rail.The potential is enormous but the reality is the opposite and I'm guessing the only ones who will reap any benefit from this are the sleazy developers who will buy up at bargain prices, build their cheap and nasty condominiums and push the population out further (it seems this has already started to happen).
Robin Desauge

Greg said...

Robin, interesting to see an outsiders opinion. I'll admit Newcastle is a very rough diamond and not for everyone. You need to spend time there and get to know it's eccentricities and not so obvious charms. It is a quirky and somewhat Bohemian place that you must become familiar with to truly appreciate.

The single defining moment in the city's recent history was 28th December 1989. That was the day of the earthquake and it marked the point when Newcastle's CBD went into immediate and sharp decline. Suburban shopping centres existed in the 1980's but the CBD was still a bustling place. The devastation caused by the earthquake saw retailers and other businesses along with the hospital exiting the city for the suburbs. The CBD is now a strangely quiet place without a single notable retailer and with few head offices located there.

Honeysuckle has also been a planning disaster for the original CBD. It could have and should have, been a place given over to the city for mainly public space, recreation and entertainment. Instead it has been sold off for profit by the state to developers with no interest in good town planning. Honeysuckle has created a new and and old divide north and south of the railway tracks. The new lacks character, but with all of the development focus being on the harbour it has diverted activity from the old CBD which has continued to suffer as a result.

I said on another post that Newcastle has become a branch office with few of the decisions directly affecting it and it's future being made there. They are made by and large in Sydney by governments and boardrooms with an overly keen eye on revenue.

Even Barry O'Farrell admitted on Newcastle radio last week that the decisions being made in Sydney for Newcastle are not being made by people who have to live and work in the community so they do not have to live with the consequences.

Decisions are either poor or deferred for decades. When funding eventuates for worthwhile projects, usually many years after the need was first recognized, it is usually a scaled down version of the original vision and totally inadequate. As a case in point you only need to look at Broadmeadow railway station which is the main station for the city. It looks like an undistinguished suburban station, not the entry point for inter city and interstate travelers.

The decline of the CBD of the state's second city is an indictment on the decision makers in NSW.

Anonymous said...

If the earthquake had devastated a capital city instead of Newcastle, I wonder how much public money from both State and Commonwealth sources, would have been invested into reconstruction and renewal?

If Newcastle was the major commercial centre of the state of New England instead of the forgotten second city of NSW I wonder how much State and Commonwealth public money it would have received for reconstruction and renewal?

Why is there now to be a "flood levy" for Brisbane and SEQ when there was no "earthquake levy" for Newcastle and the Hunter?

Am I bitter and twisted about the ongoing neglect in the Hunter while the state capital plunders the wealth that the Hunter plays no small part in generating? Yep!

Jim Belshaw said...

Chaps, there is some quite wonderful material here. There are also comments on linked posts that are relevant. What's great from my viewpoint is that we have discussion. I want to know other people's views.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Anon. Your comment came in while I was preparing my last response. Looking at the comments, I think that you are talking to the converted!