Thursday, 26 August 2010

Civic leaders counting the cost

From The Herald...


NEWCASTLE City Council will have to rethink its parking strategy and work out how to cover any holes left in its budgets from lost income after The GPT Group dumped its city redevelopment.

Lord mayor John Tate has called an extraordinary meeting of council for tonight about the issue.

In a mayoral minute, Cr Tate has called for an urgent report on the ramifications of the developer's decision on the council, its budgets and city planning.

Cr Tate said the council had intended to co-ordinate the maintenance of Cathedral Park with the rebuilding of King Street, which was now not a possibility.

The council would need to consider the cost of repairing the park retaining wall, as well as the maintenance costs of the King Street parking station, which the council was to sell to GPT.

It would also need to look at its parking management, including spaces and metering. Cr Tate said the council should also look at whether it had any money it could put towards the Hunter Street mall.

Greens councillor Michael Osborne said the state government needed to show "real leadership" and bring the community together around its plan for light rail in the city.

Cr Osborne said the government, Hunter Minister Jodi McKay and federal MP Sharon Grierson should meet with the council and other MPs to discuss plans for the city.

"There needs to be proper engagement with the community, including stakeholder groups, in order to gain the widespread community support that we need to progress the revitalisation of Newcastle," he said.

Ms McKay said yesterday she would be pleased to attend any roundtable meeting of leaders and she urged the lord mayor to also invite the NSW opposition's Hunter spokesman Mike Gallacher "to provide his input into the future of this great city".

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

City figs to get the chop

From The Herald...


Chainsaws won out over community protest last night with civic leaders giving the go-ahead for Laman Street’s green cathedral to be cut down.

After more than a year’s consideration, most Newcastle City councillors agreed to have 14 Hills figs on the Cooks Hill boulevard removed as soon as possible.

They will be replaced next year with new Hills fig specimens, measuring about 3 metres high.

A packed public gallery held signs pleading for the council to save the trees and booed, hissed and heckled councillors who supported the figs’ removal.

Lord mayor John Tate and councillors Scott Sharpe, Bob Cook, Brad Luke, Graham Boyd, Aaron Buman and Mike King voted for all the trees to be removed and replaced.

Councillors Nuatali Nelmes, Sharon Claydon, Tim Crakanthorp, Michael Osborne and Mike Jackson voted against the proposal.

Cr Shane Connell was absent.

Council officers had advised that the trees should go because their deteriorating condition posed a public safety risk.

If the trees stayed, a gate, to be locked at 5pm, would be put up around parts of Laman Street, they said.

Councillors agreed that was not an option they could abide.

‘‘It’s absolutely intolerable and unacceptable ... the idea of caging up a civic space,’’ Cr Claydon said. ‘‘It just makes me want to weep.’’

Cr Crakanthorp suggested a staged removal, with four figs kept and others replanted.

‘‘These trees are held very dear to the community,’’ he said.

Cr Cook said this would produce an exceptionally poor result.

‘‘It will look wrong, it will be wrong,’’ he said.

He said removing the trees now and replacing them would provide a quality result.

‘‘It should be used as a symbol for what this council intends to achieve, the best for future generations,’’ Cr Cook said.

‘‘Let’s not do a quick, temporary patch-up job at our iconic location.

‘‘Let’s set a new standard that future generations will be proud of.’’

Cr Tate said it was about long-term benefit for the most prominent part of the city, near Civic Park, the library and art gallery.

Cr Nelmes disagreed.

‘‘I think we will look back on this as a council and realise we’ve made a mistake,’’ she said.

Detailed designs for Laman Street are expected to be presented to councillors by December.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Newcastle candidates grilled at forum

From The Herald...


IT was a case of Sharon versus the rest yesterday when all seven candidates for the safe Labor seat of Newcastle went under the microscope.

About 40 of Newcastle's 88,000 or so voters attended a public forum at Tighes Hill Public School to hear what the candidates had to say on issues such as climate change and Newcastle's future.

Most of the candidates said a strong challenge to Labor would result in Newcastle having a bigger voice in Canberra.

Liberal candidate Brad Luke said Newcastle was "celebrating" the 35th anniversary since a member for Newcastle was appointed to a government ministry, while Christian Democrats candidate Milton Caine said he had lived in a marginal seat and seen what benefits it could bring.

Ms Grierson defended her and her party's record, but it was obvious from the cheers and applause that most of the residents wanted action on issues such as climate change and the expansion of Newcastle's port.

One resident was outraged that the port would continue to expand, bringing with it increased rail and truck movements.

Ms Grierson said she understood the community's concerns about truck movements and the impact of coal trains travelling through the city, but said that expansion would continue, and that the Labor Party supported the increased use of rail.

Earlier at the forum when candidates were asked about rail movements and the port, Ms Grierson said it was not in the Commonwealth's jurisdiction to which Greens candidate Michael Osborne responded by saying that such a comment was a "cop out".

He said coal train carriages should be covered, there should be increased air-quality testing and there needed to be greater investment in renewable energy sources.

Socialist Alliance candidate Zane Alcorn said the Hunter's coal industry needed to be "phased out".

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Pedal peril: Newcastle cyclists feel unsafe

From The Herald...


A SURVEY of Newcastle cyclists has found that almost half feel unsafe on city roads, with abusive and careless motorists and lack of dedicated bike lanes mostly to blame.

Off-road routes such as The Foreshore and Fernleigh Track are proving popular.

Newcastle City Council asked 784 people about their habits for the Cycling in Newcastle survey.

Councillor Michael Osborne said the feedback would help the council prepare a city cycling strategy.

Improving popular routes and creating more cycle lanes should be priorities, he said.

More than 42 per cent of survey respondents said they felt unsafe riding their bike, especially on major roads.

In the past year, 47 per cent were abused by motorists, 52 per cent were hit by opening car doors and 55 per cent had a near miss with a vehicle.

"There is currently a degree of resentment between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists," the survey report said.

Throsby Creek and the harbour foreshore, Fernleigh Track and trips between the suburbs and inner-city were popular routes.

Reasons for cycling included health and leisure, reducing one's carbon footprint, convenience and commuting.

Respondents said more dedicated lanes and off-road routes, better safety and road conditions, and increased driver awareness would encourage activity.

Daniel Chalhoub and Glenn Stojanow, of CFN cycling store, ride daily and said extra cycle lanes would not go astray, nor would education for drivers and cyclists to be aware of one another.

Projects such as Fernleigh Track were welcome, they said.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Covers for Hunter coal trains

From The Herald...


THE noise and dust from coal trains rumbling through the region could warrant new mitigation and prevention measures such as wagon covers, Newcastle lord mayor John Tate says.

Cr Tate suggests forming a committee bringing together residents and the industry to address coal transport concerns, particularly those of residents in suburbs such as Tighes Hill.

He said port terminals had dust-suppressant measures, but ones specifically for dust were needed to ensure air-quality during windy weather.

"It seems to me that the covering of the coal wagons is not an onerous cost to the industry," he said.

Cr Tate also questioned if sound-reduction barriers were still effective given the extra size and power of trains.

At a meeting last month, the Tighes Hill Community Group heard from Australian Rail Track Corporation representatives.

The representatives reportedly told the group that an environmental-protection licence governed its operations, and it had pollution-reduction plans in place.

Greens candidate Michael Osborne said he put a motion forward this year, which councillors did not support, calling for a report on coalmine impacts on residents, including coal transport.

Cr Tate said the motion did not suggest a course of action.

Train operator Pacific National or the track corporation did not comment to the Newcastle Herald.

A Queensland Rail spokeswoman said environmental responsibilities were taken "very seriously".

A NSW Minerals Council spokesman said Australian air-quality monitoring studies "have not found the potential for impacts on human health or amenity from dust emissions from coal either inside or outside of the rail corridor".