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LAST week, the state government unveiled the latest version of its plan to revitalise the Newcastle CBD.
Like any proud parent, it produced a glossy new video of its baby, complete with arrows on maps and a flyover view of the Newcastle of the future.
But as planners often warn, it is not always wise to take “artist’s impressions” too seriously.
Which is why the government is now likely to withdraw the video and its 80 or more high-rise towers and replace it with something more . . . how should we put this . . . realistic.
Less like Manhattan.
One office wit had taken to calling it “planners on crack cocaine” and it is not hard to see why.
The video opens with a map of the city, and a reassuring female voice-over.
“The NSW Government is revitalising the city centre to boost economic activity, returning the city to a thriving metropolis as the focus of business, cultural and tourist activity for the region.’’
Aiming to create “approximately 6000 new homes and 10,000 jobs by 2036”, the government says it wants to “reconnect the city centre to its iconic waterfront” and “create a liveable city for residents and tourists to enjoy”.
Even if one of its aims is “connecting Wickham to the beach” – something of a physical challenge, cynics or regular readers of Greg Ray’s columns could at least be pleased it was not spelt as “Wycombe”.
About half way in, the map gives way to an aerial view of the city as it is at present. Just as the viewer reaches the west end, a mass of tall new buildings pop up like steel, glass and concrete mushrooms from one end of Hunter Street to the other.
This writer’s eyes aren’t what they used to be but I counted at least 80 high-rise buildings – all of such a scale that they dwarfed the new apartment and office blocks that have gone up in recent years along Honeysuckle.
Interestingly, the Honeysuckle block that is presently the site of a heritage dispute over the historic Wickham School of Arts building has two new towers on it, and no sign of the existing structures.
Asked about the view of Newcastle portrayed in the video, UrbanGrowth NSW project manager David Antcliff said it was “not overly probable”.
He said the bulk and scale of the buildings had been blocked into an earlier version of the video, which had not drawn any adverse comment.
“It’s the same fly through but with more rendering in of the details of the buildings so there’s no change in what is being presented other than it is very much the fully built out version of the current planning controls,’’ Mr Antcliff said.
Calling it an example of “the dreaded artist’s impression”, Mr Antcliffe said UrbanGrowth had told video artists to block in buildings to the limits of the planning controls.
It was, in other words, the theoretical maximum, rather than a likely outcome.
“There is a high improbability of it ever coming to fruition, although it is possible in terms of planning controls.
“Market forces will tell you whether it is possible or not but you look at the market forces and you see it is not likely.”
Having considered the response, Mr Antcliff said the video was likely to be replaced.
“We’re considering modifying the video to something more realistic in a 10 to 20 year frame to visualise it taking market forces into account,’’ Mr Antcliff said.
As if the high rise buildings were not enough, the map of Newcastle that opens the video has four areas shaded in as “opportunity sites” – all of which cover the existing heavy rail line.
Mr Antcliff assured the Herald it was not evidence of a secret plan to build over the railway line.
The four zones were, instead, simply “circles on a map” (or, more accurately, ovals) showing the location of vacant state government land.
A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said the video appeared “very futuristic”.
“Since the video doesn’t provide any timeframe and given that they are seeking investment, I think it could be safely assumed that it would take many years to get to this level of growth, if ever,’’ the spokeperson said.
“Given this situation and the fact that Council has had no input into the artist’s impression, it is very difficult for Council to make any formal comment on it.”
The spokesperson noted, however, that the council had endorsed the strategy in a motion proposed by Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy on February 25.
Greens councillor Therese Doyle said it was this resolution that led her to call for an extraordinary meeting of the council to address the issue.
“A resolution to support this project, the T4 coal loader and the cutting of the heavy rail line was opposed by the Greens and Labor but passed by the conservative majority even before the CBD changes were on public display,’’ Cr Doyle said.
The proposed changes to Newcastle’s planning controls are on display until Friday March 21.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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