The NSW government has announced a state budget light on new major infrastructure for Newcastle but with a nod towards several key Hunter road projects.
The Lower Hunter’s Labor politicians reacted angrily to the lack of major funding announcements, arguing the government was largely ignoring the region while lavishing money on Sydney.
“It’s a very disappointing budget based on what this government said it would deliver,” Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said after treasurer Dominic Perrottet’s budget speech to parliament on Tuesday. “They’ve recycled the light rail funding for the fifth year in a row.”
The budget papers also redefine Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Wollongong as metropolitan areas, raising questions over whether the cities will be eligible for regional funding programs.
As reported in Tuesday's Newcastle Herald, the budget allocates another $23.5 million to start building the new $470 million Maitland Hospital, $110 million to complete the Newcastle light-rail line and $8.3 million towards a $70 million project to improve Nelson Bay Road.
Other roads spending includes $16.3 million to continue improving the intersection of the M1 motorway and Weakleys Drive, $4.3 million to continue planning for M1 extensions to Raymond Terrace, and $14.5 million for planning and “preconstruction” of the inner-city bypass extension from Rankin Park to Jesmond.
Further up the valley, there is $38 million to continue work on the Scone bypass and $5.7 million to plan other bypasses at Singleton and Muswellbrook.
The government says it will spend $105.3 million, half the project cost, next financial year to build 330 more beds at Cessnock Correctional Centre.
The budget also includes $7.1 million over four years for a coastal walk at Tomaree and $6.3 million for a war-plane tourist centre at Scone Regional Airport.
But many of the big-ticket and less expensive items on the wish lists of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie politicians have been overlooked.
The budget includes no money for building the Lake Macquarie Transport Interchange at Glendale.
Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison and independent Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper had hoped for upgrades to two busy arterial routes, Main Road and Hillsborough Road, but neither attracted funding.
Also missing are a new regional art gallery in Newcastle and a ferry terminal at Wickham, both priorities for Newcastle City Council and Mr Crakanthorp.
Newcastle might have missed out on a new ferry wharf, but the government has found funds for two at Botany Bay as part of a plan to commemorate the first meeting of Europeans and Aborigines with a museum and visitor centre inside federal treasurer Scott Morrison’s Cook electorate.
“This government is willing to put hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions into Sydney, yet the second largest city in the state seems to get put at the bottom of the priority list, even comparing it to other regional cities in the last month that have got enormous amounts of funding,” Mr Crakanthorp said.
Port Stephens MP and shadow minister for the Hunter Kate Washington said the funding for Nelson Bay Road represented only 12 per cent of a project the government had promised to finish by 2019.
“This government promised to fully duplicate Nelson Bay Road before 2019, but we’ve found out today that they’re only building a roundabout,” she said.
Ms Washington criticised the budget for failing to provide construction funding for the Glendale interchange, the M1 extension and Hillsborough Road.
Parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald rejected the notion that the budget had overlooked the Hunter.
“We’d always want more. Have we got our fair share in the Hunter? I think it’s pretty good,” he said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in Newcastle last month that her government was committed to extending the 2.7km light-rail line into the suburbs, but the budget includes no money for planning that expansion.
The Herald reported on Tuesday that the government would spend $6 million investigating faster trains from Newcastle to Sydney to cut the journey from three hours to two.
It will also spend $14 million on planning for a new Lower Hunter freight rail corridor from Fassifern to Hexham, a key infrastructure project which could help alleviate traffic congestion at the Adamstown railway gates.
Mr MacDonald said the funding would help the government continue to assess the project’s feasibility but “by no means is it in the bag”.
“I’m just grateful that we’re off and running with planning money, and then you’ve got to make the case,” he said. “It will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars if it gets to the launch pad.”
At Williamtown, the government will spend $800,000 to complete a $1 million IT system for tracking per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination from the RAAF base.
The government announced a new $13.5 million police station for Cessnock last week, and 2018-19 spending for this project is bundled in with $5.9 million for multi-purpose stations across the state.
The budget also includes new but unspecified funds to start upgrading Nulkaba, Speers Point, Wangi Wangi and Ashtonfield primary schools and Callaghan College’s Jesmond campus.
The government announced last week that it would build a new school and an education precinct in Newcastle. This project is grouped with 21 others in a planning allocation of $418,000 for 2018-19.