A WAVE of anger over the impending Boxing Day truncation of the Newcastle rail line washed over the Reverend Fred Nile’s parliamentary inquiry into Newcastle planning processes on Friday.
Although the Hunter Business Chamber and mall developer GPT did their best to extol the virtues of the rail truncation – and to defend the decision-making process – the majority of witnesses gave it to the Baird government and its associates.
Rousing applause was frequent for those who spoke up for rail retention but the final speaker, Matt Newman, 18, was jeered for saying the removal of the line would ensure the city prospered.
Friday’s hearing came a fortnight after the opening day of the inquiry took evidence from Hunter Development Corporation (HDC) chairman Paul Broad and its general manager, Bob Hawes, and the role of the HDC in the rail line decision – and the existence of a little-known ‘‘master planning group’’ revealed last Saturday in the Newcastle Herald – was a dominant theme in proceedings.
Away from the Newcastle rail line, the Friends of King Edward Park group raised concerns over a rezoning of the former bowling club site and a Hexham woman complained about flooding and issues associated with nearby coal rail developments.
But from the time that University of Newcastle chief operating officer Nat McGregor said he did not know how the HDC came to wrongly claim that the uni’s inner-city campus depended on the rail line being cut, this contested two-kilometre strip became the focus of the day.
By Friday, the inquiry had published 365 submissions, many where the writers believed the planning processes had been subverted by electoral donations or conflicts of interest.
In her submission, the former federal member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson, said the decision to cut the line and to run light rail along Hunter Street and Scott Street had been ‘‘unduly been influenced by the interests of donors and the property sector’’. Like others, she called for a moratorium on the decision until the Nile committee’s report was finished, and until the March state election to allow people to ‘‘express their view at the ballot box’’.
Retired lawyer Alan Squire, whose Hunter Transport for Regional Development group has long pushed for light rail, promised to provide further evidence about two occasions when he said senior public servants had told him that light rail was going down Hunter Street – rather than the existing corridor – because ‘‘that’s what [former lord mayor Jeff] McCloy wanted’’.
The committee is to take further evidence in Sydney.
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