GOVERNMENT developer UrbanGrowth NSW will begin soil testing at The Store next week as it works on integrating the former retail site into the new Wickham transport interchange.
Since the state government produced a rare truce in the tussle over planning in Newcastle by buying the site of The Store late last year, there have been few details about when and how the iconic building would be redeveloped, and if it would be part of the interchange.
The Store and carpark are both closed, and UrbanGrowth has done basic work ensuring the site is safe.
But, in a sign that progress in those deliberations is taking place behind the scenes, UrbanGrowth will begin “ground testing” at the site from Thursday.
“The testing is being undertaken to understand soil conditions prior to the commencement of detailed planning for the site,” UrbanGrowth project director Michael Cassel said in a letter distributed to neighbouring businesses.
“The process will involve the excavation of shallow pits and drilling into the ground at various locations across the site.
“While there will be some noise associated with drilling activities, we anticipate the overall impact of this work will be low. Access to Beresford Lane will be restricted at times during the works.”
With a building height limit of 90 metres, or about 30 storeys, The Store is one of the city’s most strategic sites, and plans for its redevelopment are part of a joint effort between UrbanGrowth, the Hunter Development Corporation and Transport for NSW.
The Hunter Street property backs onto the site of the interchange, and its purchase provided more room for buses and taxis, as well as car parking, which was previously missing from the project’s plans.
Part of the site is likely to used by Laing O’Rourke, the contractor responsible for construction of the transport interchange, but its purchase also opened new urban renewal possibilities for the city’s West End.
A decision would need to be made on whether to hold off on redeveloping The Store until after the East End redevelopment with the GPT Group is done and changes are made to the heavy rail corridor, but at the time of the purchase Mr Cassel said it provided an opportunity to bring forward the area’s renewal.
In October, he said the two could areas could be done ‘‘running in parallel’’.
Laing O’Rourke was awarded a $73 million design and build contract for the interchange last year, and preparatory work for construction has begun.
The site is scheduled to open in 2017.
The purchase of The Store achieved a rare consensus at the time of the purchase, receiving praise from both sides of the city’s often fractured political divide.