CONSTRUCTION investment in Newcastle is predicted to soon top $2 billion with $700 million going into the west end as the city’s new high-rise housing hub.
A new map of Newcastle building activity shows 28 residential projects with a combined value of $1.6 billion in the construction pipeline, with more proposals set to be lodged as the building boom takes hold.
More than 3000 apartments will be added to the city’s housing stock as a result, including 1200 in the west end.
Tower cranes are popping up the length of the city as the stagnation that characterised Newcastle in the years after the global financial crisis gives way to a new era of job-creating development.
Typical of the new developments is the 10-storey WestEnd apartments fronting Charles Street. Wickham, that the Development Applications Committee of Newcastle City Council approved on Tuesday, June 21.
Valued at $67 million with 122 residential units and 133 car-parking spaces, the WestEnd aggregates five blocks in an area typified by a mix of older housing and light industry.
The main industry advocacy body, the Property Council of Australia, credits the Baird government with providing the impetus for the boom.
The council’s Hunter director, Andrew Fletcher, said the state government had encouraged investment by ending the rail debate and pressing ahead with light rail as part of a broader proposal to overhaul public transport.
“The historic difference is a state government willing to back its vision for the city with policy settings and guaranteed infrastructure funding,” Mr Fletcher said.
He said previous “market uncertainty and policy back-flips” had “acted as a handbrake on investment for decades”.
He said much of the development “hugs the light rail alignment and clusters around the Wickham transport interchange”.
While Labor and Greens representatives acknowledged the increased level of development, neither was keen to give the Baird government the credit.
Newcastle Labor MP and councillor Tim Crakanthorp said the new law courts and the new university campus had been funded under Labor, as had the ground-breaking Renew Newcastle movement.
Mr Crakanthorp said the windfall stamp duty revenues in last week’s state budget confirmed a property boom in Sydney that was “pushing demand for affordable alternatives”.
“This has driven a surge in demand for Newcastle property,” he said.
“And developers have followed that demand with proposed supply.
“There is never a silver bullet for a local economy’s revitalisation, but that’s what this light rail has been put forward to be.”
Greens councillor Therese Doyle said she voted against the WestEnd development at last week’s council committee meeting because she did not believe the architects had properly acknowledged the impacts on a neighbouring heritage cottage.
She said in general the Greens supported high-rise “in the right places” because it was the best way to achieve the urban density needed for an efficient city.
But she argued that the Newcastle building boom “would have happened anyway”, regardless of the Baird government, and she still believed the government’s light rail plans were more about developing the old heavy rail corridor than anything else.
Although debate over the proposed light rail is as intense as ever – with many individuals and organisations calling for it to be shifted entirely onto the rail corridor – Mr Fletcher said “the new housing supply hugs the light rail alignment and clusters around the interchange”.
Colliers International agent Ed Crawford, who is also the property council’s Hunter chair, said Newcastle West and Wickham were on the way to surpassing Newcastle East for residential density.
“Knowing that the transport interchange is definitely being built has been a strong magnet for investors,” Mr Crawford said.
“An even stronger attraction is the potential for The Store site to lead Newcastle’s first ‘transit oriented development’ or TOD.” TODs are mixed-use, high-rise developments built at or close to a major rail stop or transport interchange with the aim of encouraging public transport use.
Mr Crawford said TODs were well-established in North American and Europe with “a growing reputation as the most desirable places to live, work and play”.
The state government bought The Store site in September last year. It backs immediately onto the interchange site and is zoned to allow a building of 90 metres, or about 30 storeys. Just as importantly, it sits within a small area of inner Newcastle that is apparently free of old underground mine workings, giving it a “no restrictions” classification from the Mine Subsidence Board.
Mr Fletcher said the building boom represented “a handsome return on the infrastructure that the state government has invested in Newcastle” but he urged the government not to let the city “lose its mojo”.
“A good apartment is one thing, but for long-term prosperity and jobs growth, the city must also be a great place to live,” he said.
Couple sold by harbour outlook
By BRODIE OWEN
IT WASN’T the transport, it wasn’t the shops – it was the view that convinced empty-nesters David and Jody Pritchard to move from Cooks Hill to Newcastle’s west end.
Mrs Pritchard said she was “in awe” when she saw the plans of her $700,000 Aero Apartments’ unit.
“It was the view that got me,” she said.
“You can see right out over the harbour – it’s just stunning.”
Mr and Mrs Pritchard are the human face of the west end property boom that is transforming the sleepy side of Hunter Street into a haven for high rise living.
“West end was a part of town you’d probably avoid a few years ago, but now it’s where everybody wants to be,” Mr Pritchard said.
“It’s very central to everything – you have the shops, the transport and that amazing view of the harbour. This whole area is coming up, it just made so much sense.”
Colliers International agent Christian Booth said water view units were the first to sell.