THE state government decided on separated running for the Newcastle light rail – and kept that decision from the public – before starting an “inadequate” process of consultation on the project.
That’s one assertion in a damning Newcastle City Council assessment that will be put to Tuesday night’s council meeting. If it is endorsed as expected, it will become the council’s submission to the light rail Review of Environmental Factors. Public consultation ends on Friday.
The submission says the council had been seeking “background” documents on the light rail for 18 months “with limited success”. It notes a batch were delivered on Friday, May 6, after “the exhibition period had already commenced”.
“Of particular concern, is that the decision to only consider separated running in Hunter Street appears to have been made in 2013 prior to public consultation on the light rail route in early 2014,” the submission says.
“We find it a serious breach of governance for this decision and consequences thereof not to be made public during the 2014 light rail route consultation. Council would not have supported the Hunter Street option if this information had been made known at the time.”
The council’s opposition aligns it with the Hunter Business Chamber, which has similar concerns and wants them addressed before construction starts, even if it means “a small delay” to the project.
The government’s one high-profile backer at the moment appears to be the Property Council of Australia, with its Hunter chapter regional director Andrew Fletcher describing the call for a delay as “misguided”. But the property council’s support has angered one of its prominent members, Jeff McCloy, who said he was considering resigning from the organisation over its stance.
Mr McCloy, who proposed light rail on Hunter Street when the government was planning to run it down the heavy rail corridor, said “I feel so angry about this whole thing”.
“At meetings I have been at they [the Property Council] appear to be looking after the interests of [light rail bidder] Keolis Downer and not the interests of property owners and businesses in Newcastle,” Mr McCloy said on Sunday.
He said the loss of parking and other traffic problems that flowed from separated light rail would kill Hunter Street. He said the impact could be shown by trialling the light rail traffic conditions, including the lost parking spots, and running buses every 10 minutes on the central light rail lanes.
“At least then you’d get some practical idea of what it would do, rather than relying on theory and predictions,” Mr McCloy said.