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THE state government is determined to push ahead with its plan to truncate Newcastle’s heavy rail line and install light rail through the city – and is expected to set aside more than $100 million in Tuesday’s state budget to make a major dent in the controversial project.
More money to plan the desperately-needed new Lower Hunter hospital at Metford is also expected to be included, and the region’s roads will get at least a $200million boost.
New Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian will hand down a record $2.1billion surplus for 2014-15, thanks to stamp duty revenues flowing into coffers from Sydney’s housing boom. But the government will also administer cuts and savings measures worth more than $1billion over the next four years, including keeping its 2.5per cent public sector wages cap.
The budget is unlikely to offer many surprise goodies, while the government is still preparing to lease the poles and wires.
But parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald said the government was ‘‘determined to deliver on its promises’’.
‘‘The Hunter will not be forgotten,’’ he said.
The government will put about $100million from the proceeds of the Port of Newcastle lease on the table in 2015-16 towards its $460million city rail project.
But it will need to wait at least a month to see if the black cloud placed over its plans by an unfavourable court decision is lifted.
The government will take the matter to the Court of Appeal for a hearing in late July, after the Supreme Court ruled late last year it did not have the power to start ripping out the heavy rail tracks without the approval of Parliament.
The government has repeatedly insisted the ruling has not significantly delayed its schedule, which earmarked the start of construction of light rail for late this year. Ms Berejiklian, in her former role as transport minister, had said it would not take long to remove the heavy rail once the work got under way.
The court process does not stop the government from building a new transport interchange at Wickham, for which it has already awarded a $73million design and construction contract.
Also in the budget will be cash to complete the refurbishment of the Cooks Hill Campus and funding for the new John Hunter Hospital Paediatric Intensive Care Unit.
This article first appeared on www.theherald.com.au
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