It was hoped the Lower Hunter's inclusion in the Greater Cities Commission two years ago would nudge the region's interests closer to the centre of decision-making power in NSW.
At the time, legislation governing the former Greater Sydney Commission expanded to cover the Newcastle and Wollongong areas with the promise of long-term planning for a "global city region".
This long and broad vision appeared to present Newcastle and Wollongong with opportunities for economic growth, better infrastructure and greater connectivity as part of an integrated solution to ever-growing Sydney's problems of scale.
"We're welcoming a strong role for the Greater Cities Commission to get that direct line to the top of government to coordinate infrastructure and service agencies and get things moving," Committee for the Hunter chief executive Alice Thompson said in welcoming the changes.
The Minns government scrapped the commission this week, reportedly in response to its underwhelming housing targets for wealthy Sydney suburbs.
The writing had been on the wall since June when chief commissioner Geoff Roberts left at the end of his term and was not replaced and the government redeployed GCC staff to departmental roles focused on delivering houses.
Planning Minister Paul Scully said on Wednesday that the government was "removing duplication and overlay" and creating a "clear line of accountability" in the planning system.
"To confront the housing crisis, we must look critically at all aspects of the planning system and ask what is focused on delivery and what is not," he told Parliament.
It remains to be seen whether the GCC's six "city" plans, including one for the Lower Hunter, will ever see the light of day. The Department of Planning has taken carriage of them.
Under the revised 2022 legislation, these plans were required to include housing targets for each local government area in the GCC's remit.
The Lower Hunter's representative on the commission, Matt Endacott, made some pointed comments about the lack of long-term strategic planning in NSW when the GCC's demise became public.
"If we continue to roll out greenfield developments west of Maitland with no new schools or public transport, what social and economic consequences does that have in 30 years' time?" he said.
"It's the kind of work, I'd suggest, we've never been very good at in NSW."
Endacott acknowledged the government faced pressing housing targets in Sydney, but it was clear he saw the GCC's demise as a missed opportunity for the Hunter.
"Its independence allowed it to say things many other government agencies shy away from," he said.
"Things like 'build a container terminal', 'extend the light rail to Broadmeadow' or 'stop putting new homes in paddocks with no schools and sports fields'."
Endacott's warnings on urban sprawl are even more urgent after the federal government announced last week that it was abandoning the customary 80-20 funding split with the states on major road and rail infrastructure and would require state governments to stump up 50 per cent in future.
The NSW government had already signalled it was focusing on higher-density residential development near existing train stations to meet housing targets while not breaking the bank.
The onus is now on Scully, and the four Hunter MPs in cabinet, to achieve desirable housing outcomes in the greater Newcastle area.
The Department of Planning says its draft "place" strategy for Broadmeadow, including most notably the 63-hectare Hunter Park redevelopment precinct, will be released early next year.
It is unclear who has been consulted about this strategy.
The community's expectations for Hunter Park include a new entertainment centre and new sports and recreation facilities. Some fear the government's plans will focus too narrowly on the low-hanging fruit of redeveloping Newcastle Showground for housing.
Likewise, the government's plans for the Honeysuckle HQ site have been complicated by a new stipulation for 30 per cent social and affordable housing on the "premium" waterfront land.
Northern Lake Macquarie shapes as another potential housing hot spot relatively close to services and infrastructure, but nothing concrete is emerging at any of these locations.
For all the new high-rise apartments in the Newcastle city centre and the government's ambitions on urban density, the bulk of the Hunter's population growth is still happening in subdivisions around Maitland and Cessnock.
The GCC's scrapping coincides with the NSW and federal governments walking away from faster rail services between Sydney and Newcastle, the most important element of the "six cities" vision, and the state abandoning the Williamtown airport special activation precinct.
If the government has decided the GCC is not the best way to improve housing supply and affordability in the Hunter, it must demonstrate quickly that its new strategy will get the job done.