Minister for Health Brad Hazzard has hailed the redevelopment of the John Hunter Hospital precinct as a key driver of jobs growth in the Hunter.
Mr Hazzard was in Newcastle on Monday for a workshop with more than 60 health, education, research, business and political leaders as a first step to developing a master plan for a proposed new hospital campus.
The state government has embarked on a multibillion-dollar investment in health services across the state, including a new $470 million Maitland hospital, and Mr Hazzard viewed the John Hunter redevelopment as the “most outstanding project that could happen in the regions”.
Asked how much the government could spend at the John Hunter, he said: “I don’t know yet, but it will be a lot. What we build will be, if you like, an Aladdin’s cave for talent, so I suppose we’re going to have to match that with the dollars.
“One group suggested today that the people of New Lambton should see what’s going to happen to this hospital precinct as another suburb right next door, and that includes retail.”
Hunter New England Health has been working on a plan for a major rebuild and expansion of the 27-year-old hospital which could incorporate a larger university and research presence.
Mr Hazzard described a redeveloped health and research campus as Newcastle’s “gateway to the 21st century”.
“For me, as a former planning minister, having been very much involved with cutting the light rail at Wickham and driving Newcastle to redevelop itself and to make it the pre-eminent second city in NSW, not the poor cousin but an amazing city of opportunity, this is just a natural progression,” he said.
“As long as we don’t go into it thinking we’re just building a new hospital. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re actually, as a result of all the input here today, looking at building a health, education, innovation and exciting precinct which will be a magnet for more jobs from really across Australia.”
The Newcastle Herald reported last month that a template for the John Hunter project could be the proposed Liverpool Health and Academic Precinct, a concept created by a committee of health authorities, universities, local government, TAFE and business groups in south-west Sydney.
Mr Hazzard praised a presentation on Monday from Hunter Research Foundation lead economist Dr Anthea Bill which showed the health and social assistance sector has been growing by 1000 jobs a year in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
This represents a rise of almost 20 per cent in the past five years, more than seven times the rate of jobs growth in the wider economy.
Dr Bill’s analysis of Census data shows that 60 per cent of 4000 employees at the John Hunter campus have a bachelor degree or higher and 75 per cent are women.
“It is a major source of the high-value, specialised jobs in the region which drive economic growth,” she told the Herald after the workshop.
Mr Hazzard said his department would work on a John Hunter master plan after consulting the community and clinicians then “go into battle” with Treasury to secure funding.
“Newcastle is not really a region any more; it’s a major city. This one will be a fantastic outcome, a bobby-dazzler of a hospital, education and innovation network. I’m very excited about it,” he said.
“I have family members up here in Newcastle. I’ve been to Newcastle hundreds of times. To be in a position now to push through that health, education, innovation uplift, which will very likely make this a world example of what you can do, is amazing.”
Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo described the workshop as a “great day for Newcastle”.
The Department of Health’s chief executive of infrastructure, Sam Sangster, said the meeting was part of a “well trodden path in terms of starting projects with a planning exercise”.
“Westmead’s our biggest investment at a billion dollars. That started off as a million-dollar planning exercise,” he said. “If you don’t have that planning money, then you’re not even in that pipeline.”
A John Hunter redevelopment would seek to address parking shortages and better vehicle access from Lookout Road.
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