A new entertainment centre and indoor aquatic centre are the most needed facilities within Hunter Park, Newcastle's lord mayor has said, as she and her Cessnock counterpart call for funds to be allocated in the state budget to kickstart the planned Broadmeadow redevelopment.
The government has overlooked the sport and entertainment precinct in its past two budgets, despite sitting on a Venues NSW masterplan for the 63-hectare site.
The agency was tasked with crafting the plan almost four years ago, when the government unveiled a vision for a new entertainment centre, aquatic facility, extra sports fields, housing and a mix of commercial developments.
The Newcastle Herald understands NSW Treasury is considering a government agency's budget proposal seeking $8 million to fund essential detailed planning.
But the Newcastle and Cessnock mayors also want funds put towards relocating harness racing from Broadmeadow, a move which would open up land to develop some of the proposals.
"The construction of Hunter Park and relocation of harness racing to Cessnock will create gold-standard facilities for the community, ensure Cessnock's rich relationship with harness racing continues and provide thousands of jobs across Greater Newcastle," the duo write in an opinion piece today.
"We hope the NSW Treasurer will see this huge opportunity for the Hunter.
"It's time to get these projects off and racing."
The mayors argue harness racing could be moved as the studies into the broader precinct take place. All five Lower Hunter councils agreed last year that Cessnock would house a new paceway.
Land in Branxton is understood to have firmed as the likely site. It is considered ideal given its proximity to the Hunter Expressway.
Harness Racing NSW is supportive of the move, provided the sport is looked after by the government to shift from Broadmeadow, where Newcastle Harness Racing Club has a lease until 2047.
The move is considered an essential step to the redevelopment occurring as the existing track's removal would open up a large slice of land.
Images developed for Venues NSW's masterplan, which the Herald discovered on a consultant's website in December, show additional sports fields and associated buildings in the track's place.
Cr Nelmes said the standout projects needed in the precinct and for the region were a new entertainment centre and aquatic centre.
"The masterplan indicates the need to completely renew the entertainment centre, which is at the end of its useful life, and providing outdoor space for the community to use which can turn into events space for markets or concerts," she said.
"An entertainment centre and aquatic centre - they are the priorities. But my priority is getting this thing started.
"The NSW government need to invest in actually starting the process of delivering what is a mix of really important infrastructure ... right in the heart of greater metropolitan Newcastle."
The masterplan is understood to have existed for at least a year, but multiple factors have influenced the project gaining any momentum.
Beyond the government's infrastructure priorities lying elsewhere, the redevelopment plan has been developed by Venues NSW, an agency unlikely to deliver it.
The Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation has been mooted as a candidate, with the work at Broadmeadow predicted to be similar to what it has completed in Honeysuckle.
Another impediment has been the turnover of Sports Ministers, with the fourth in four years including outgoing acting minister Geoff Lee, sworn in on Thursday.
The transition was how the minister's office justified not answering direct questions about the project. It issued a statement from Venues NSW.
"The NSW government remains committed to investing in infrastructure to support local economies," it said. "Construction has commenced on multi-million dollar developments including the International Hockey Centre and the Newcastle Knights Centre of Excellence, which will benefit the wider Hunter region through job creation and the inclusion of community facilities."
Ongoing development in the CBD, and the need to build a basketball stadium in Lake Macquarie so the existing Broadmeadow facility is freed up, are also factors.
Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Taylor Martin said the harness track's relocation was the "first critical step in revitalising the Broadmeadow precinct" and he was "happy to keep working with all stakeholders" in order to "get it right".
"It's a large and exciting opportunity to reinvigorate the local area," he said.
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