TED Atchison calls it the “Newcastle Syndrome”.
When Sport Minister Stuart Ayres released his “vision” for the Broadmeadow sport and entertainment precinct this week – an ambitious but unfunded plan to open up the site for private development and revamp the city’s outdated entertainment centre – he was adding his name to a long history of grand and mostly unfulfilled plans dating back to the early 1960s.
“I think we’re up to about version number six of the Broadmeadow plan, and it changes every time there's a change of government,” Mr Atchison, who chaired the board of the precinct for 12 years until 2011, said.
In 2008 the NSW Labor Premier Morris Iemma visited what was then EnergyAustralia Stadium to announce $20 million for a new western grandstand.
The money, Mr Iemma told journalists, could position the city to bid for World Cup soccer matches, and was just one step in a bold vision to redevelop the 63-hectares of land surrounding the stadium into a world-class sport and entertainment precinct on the scale of Sydney’s Olympic Park.
A little more than a year later, in November 2009, the government architect finished work on a new Broadmeadow precinct plan.
The Labor government never endorsed the plan and it wasn’t made public, but a copy of the report seen by the Newcastle Herald reveals it included proposals to relocate the Newcastle Harness Racing Club, build a new 10,000-seat entertainment centre, aquatic centre and multi-level carpark, as well as open the site up for medium-density residential housing.
The idea, according to the document’s authors, was for Broadmeadow to become “a first-choice sporting, leisure and entertainment precinct that is diverse, vibrant, sustainable and commercially viable”.
Sound familiar? It should.
The plan bears more than a passing resemblance to the one released by Mr Ayres this week, down to specific proposals for small-scale commercial development on land on the corner of Lambton and Bavin Roads and a shared uncertainty over what to do with Newcastle Showground.
“They are certainly not vastly different,” Mr Atchison said.
“In fact they have adopted quite a lot that we had in 2009.”
So, if the ideas haven’t changed, why has Newcastle had to wait another eight years to see any progress on a site that Newcastle Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes says offers “breath-taking” opportunities for the city’s economy.
Scot MacDonald, the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter, says the needs of the precinct “evolve over time” and the latest plan “builds on the work previously undertaken by the Hunter Development Corporation in 2009”.
But others say the simple answer is a change of government.
Mark Sargent, a former Newcastle Knights first-grade player who since retiring has received a PhD in public policy, was asked to undertake consultation on the 2009 plan.
In 2011 he presented the government with a draft consultation report that laid out potential “threats” to the redevelopment of the precinct. They included the possibility that the Newcastle Harness Racing Club could adopt a “siege mentality” about plans to relocate them if not properly briefed.
But he said the 2011 election that swept Labor from power after 16 years “pretty much stopped that iteration of the plan in its tracks”.
“I guess if you’ve been in opposition for 16 years or whatever it was you come to government with a certain policy agenda, [Broadmeadow] obviously wasn’t part of that and it has taken them a little while to get back around to it,” he said.
Mr Atchison agrees. In 2011 the new Sports Minister Graham Annesley controversially sacked the board of Hunter Venues because of what he said were budget overruns.
After that, Mr Atchison said, the plan “sat on someone’s desk at Venues NSW in Sydney and we never heard anything else about it”.
“To be blunt, that’s the Newcastle syndrome,” he said.
“Unless we’re a swinging seat we get nothing, and that’s really what it comes down to.”
But unfinished plans for that part of Broadmeadow date back to well before 2009.
In May Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp was outraged when Venues NSW board member Glenn Turner suggested there had been developer interest in building a hotel on the corner of Griffiths and Turton roads.
He said the plan shouldn’t be “a land grab for developers”.
I think we're up to about version number six of the Broadmeadow plan, and it changes every time there's a change of government.- Ted Atchison, former Hunter Venues chairman
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