The NSW government has sold more than $180 million in property in Newcastle's central business district in the four years since the city's development boom began.
The figure includes about $110 million in land sales by Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation for projects such as the $200 million Store redevelopment, the Honeysuckle university campus, three waterfront apartment complexes, a hotel in Honeysuckle Drive and GWH's Darby Plaza office block.
NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey told a budget estimates committee hearing last month that the government had sold $418 million in property throughout the Newcastle local government area since 2011-12, prompting a renewed attack from Labor that it was "flogging off" public assets.
A list of the transactions provided by Ms Pavey's office shows one developer, Doma Group, has paid HCCDC $47 million for five CBD properties plus an undisclosed amount for the 12,000-square metre Store site.
The exact total of HCCDC land sales is unclear because the transactions for the Store and Miller Property Corporation's purchase of waterfront land at 45 Honeysuckle Drive have not been completed.
The Newcastle Herald has included price estimates, based on comparable land sales, for these sites in its totals.
The figures from Ms Pavey's office, cross-referenced with the Valuer General's database, show how the value of many Newcastle redevelopment sites has more than doubled in the past four years.
Doma paid $4.85 million in 2015 for the 4129-square metre block at 18 Honeysuckle Drive where it later built the Edition apartments and an adjacent office building. The company sold the office building, which was leased to government tenants, for $52.2 million in July.
Two years after buying the Edition site at $1174 per square metre, Doma paid $8.9 million, or $2715 a square metre, for a smaller site at 42 Honeysuckle Drive for its Little National Hotel project. Both blocks are on the non-waterfront side of Honeysuckle Drive.
The same developer paid $15.75 million, or $2159 a square metre, for the site of its 155-apartment Lume building now under construction on the waterfront.
Doma then acquired a smaller block next door for almost the same price, $15.5 million, or $2986 a square metre. The company plans to start building its Huntington apartments on that land next week.
The Store site, where Doma is building Newcastle's largest office building and has proposed the city's tallest residential towers, is conservatively valued at about $24 million, based on other land sales in the city.
Such a price tag would raise Doma's buying spree in the city to more than $70 million.
Doma has agreed to pay for and build the Newcastle Bus Interchange for the government as part of a complicated land deal at the Store, so the true value of the transaction may never be known.
In response to questions about the Store deal, an HCCDC spokesperson said: "The Store isn't a straight land sale. HCCDC sold The Store site in April 2018 and, as part of the sale, negotiated that the proponent delivers a bus and coach interchange on behalf of government.
"This presented a multi-million cost saving while also facilitating a multi-faceted, multi-modal and mixed-use outcome, in line with the Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy."
The transaction had "different milestones in place that reflect the multi-faceted outcomes".
Neither Transport for NSW nor HCCDC would disclose the cash component of the transaction nor the estimated cost to Doma of building the bus interchange.
HCCDC has received $21 million for land on the former heavy rail corridor that the government promised in 2012 would not be sold to developers.
This includes $6.6 million from GWH for Darby Plaza, $10.3 million from the university and two $2 million sales to Doma and Evolve Housing.
The university bought two blocks totalling more than 15,000 square metres on and beside the rail corridor for less than half the Valuer General's 2018 valuation for the land.
HCCDC last week placed on the market the final slice of corridor land, marketed as Rail Bridge Row, between the Darby Plaza site and the Market Street Lawn.
GWH paid $3084 per square metre for the Darby Plaza site, marking it as the most expensive land HCCDC has sold, including the Honeysuckle waterfront lots.
The 4125-square metre Rail Bridge Row site is relatively narrow and has a lower 14-metre height limit, but the government will make several million dollars from its sale.
The HCCDC spokesperson said the proceeds of all corridor land sales were invested back into the government's urban transformation program, including Market Street Lawn, Museum Park, The Station, Signal Box and the former Newcastle railway station bus depot.
"Through the Revitalising Newcastle program, HCCDC has also facilitated significant city-changing outcomes using corridor lands such as the expansion of the University of Newcastle, Evolve Housing affordable housing outcome and mixed-use outcomes to support more jobs and homes.
"This is in line with the significant community consultation undertaken in 2015 that saw people most support a mix of green space and development to facilitate growth."
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive officer Bob Hawes said demand for land in central Newcastle had increased considerably since he was the development corporation's boss from 2011 to 2016.
"I know the numbers that people used to do their feasibilities on, and they're a lot different these days, for their rate per square metre in the noughties compared to what they're getting now," he said.
"Certainly during my time at HDC we put blocks of land up there for sale where we were looking after the constraints, and we didn't have bids."
HCCDC began as the Honeysuckle Development Corporation in 1992 using $100 million in seed money from the Building Better Cities program.
Mr Hawes said waiting for the market to demand Honeysuckle land had achieved a better outcome for the city.
"They could have put a for-sale sign up on parts of that early on, got nothing for it, and the whole site would have been filled in with horrible, ugly units that we would have been regretting for the rest of our lives," he said.
"The scale of activity we've seen in the city centre in unprecedented. For a long time it was just Honeysuckle - that's where all the action was - but now we're seeing that right across the CBD."
Apart from the final piece of corridor land, HCCDC is sitting on a huge 20,000-square metre block of waterfront land at Honeysuckle and another approximately 8000 square metres on the other side of what will be a realigned Honeysuckle Drive.
Based on nearby land values, the unsold sites, some of which have a 90-metre height limit, could fetch at least another $50 million when the government releases them to the market.
Debate continues between developers, residents, planners, traders and politicians about whether the city's multibillion-dollar transformation, including the $368 million light rail line, has or will bring people back to the CBD.
Mr Hawes said the way HCCDC was structured to fund its own activities via land sales meant the city did not have to keep "bashing our heads against a brick wall" trying to win budget allocations from Macquarie Street for improvement works.
"The city will look back and be grateful for having them there because, to my knowledge, they've never sent a dividend back to the state government, and I don't think they've ever been asked," he said.
"And everything they've spent has stayed within the region."
In addition to the HCCDC sales, other government agencies have sold off five CBD buildings, most of them for redevelopment, worth $73 million since 2015.
Landcom sold the 16,600-square metre mall redevelopment site to Iris Capital for $39 million, and the Department of Justice offloaded the old Newcastle court house for $7.26 million to Japan's Nihon University.
Property NSW earned $9.55 million in 2017 for selling the Roads and Traffic Authority building at 59 Darby Street to Sydney hotel developer John Markovic.
It also sold one of the Wharf Road "glass houses" to Tamba Pty Ltd in 2016 for $14.85 million and the former court-house annex at 58 Bolton Street to brother and sister developers Bernadette and Daniel Connolly for $2.88 million.
These sales followed comments in 2014 from Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, then Finance Minister, that "it doesn't make sense for governments to hold on to property or assets that are either underutilised or no longer required for core business".
The government has also sold social housing in the Newcastle local government area in 75 separate transactions since 2011, including earning $12.7 million from a dozen sales in Bar Beach and $9 million for the Boatmen's Row terraces in Nobbys Road, Newcastle East.
The extent of the state's property sales throughout the city prompted Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp to resume his attack on the government for selling public assets.
"It's nothing short of disgusting that an extraordinary $418 million worth of government land and property has been flogged off in Newcastle in the last eight years, but they refuse to hand over a fraction of that amount to local services who are crying out for funding," he said on Friday.
"We have services like Jenny's Place wanting $900,000 to fund their Domestic Violence Resource Centre for three whole years and the government denied them.
"We've got over 1200 people waiting for social housing and increasing homelessness, but they'd rather flog off our already insufficient stock instead of increasing supply in Newcastle.
"When you add in the money they've made privatising the port, this government has reaped over $2 billion from Newcastle in the last few years and we've seen just a fraction of that invested back into Newcastle."