Newcastle council rejects doubts over rail corridor rezoning survey

Council dismisses doubts over rail corridor rezoning survey The rail corridor leading into Newcastle station before the lines were removed.

A section of the disused rail corridor near Merewether Street which would be open for development under the rezoning plan.

Worth Place, the western extremity of the subject corridor land.

The site of the proposed Newcastle University development on a section of the old rail corridor and adjoining Honeysuckle land.

TweetFacebookThe two questions in the poll read:“Question 1: Newcastle is undergoing unprecedented change and renewal. The next phase of this renewal is the corridor reserved for heavy rail. The NSW Government’s proposal is to maintain a significant portion of this corridor as public open space, including restoration of Newcastle Station. The proposal will allow some development on the former heavy rail corridor, including space for the University of Newcastle to expand its city campus, and the delivery of affordable housing. Newcastle City Council has secured a commitment from the NSW government that any profits from development will be reinvested in Newcastle. Do you support or oppose this mixed use proposal?

“Question 2: It has also been proposed that allowance be made to maintain a transport corridor on this land. Thiswould mean the land could not be used for mixed uses as described above. The NSW Government hasadvised that this corridor is not required for transport purposes.Do you support or oppose this alternate proposal?”

READ MORE:Newcastle council approves rail corridor rezoning

Responses to the first questionsuggested more people (57.5 per centto 27.3 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed with rezoning the corridor for mixed uses.

However, responses to the second question suggested more people (34.7 per centto 30.3 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed with maintaining the corridor for transport.

The number of people “undecided” jumped from 13.6 per cent in the first question to 28.8 per cent in the second.Those who answered “don’t know” rose from 1.6 per cent to 6.2 per cent.

ROLLING ALONG: A section of the former rail corridor which is being transformed into the Market Street Lawn. Picture: Marina Neil

A University of Newcastle associate professor with a background in statistics said the first question was “reasonably clear”, but the second was “confusing”.

“It is not clear whether someone is being asked,‘Do you support or opposethe proposal to maintain the transport corridor ordo you agree with the government’s decision?’” she said.

“This is most telling when you look at the results of the poll, which showthat the highest percentage of respondents indicated ‘undecided’and a certain per cent answered ‘don’t know’.

“They probably weren’t clear what they were being asked about.”

A group of 38 community and transport activists, including former Greens councillor Therese Doyle,wrote an open letter tocouncillors on Tuesday claiming the questions were “framed to elicit a predetermined response” and that the council had initiated the survey only after 69 per cent of public submissions objected to the rezoning.

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Cr Mackenzie criticisedthe report from council staff on the rezoning proposal, saying it was open to accusations of bias and left the council’s decision open to legal challenge.

The report stated that the council had received 394 public submissions against the rezoning, plus 137 form letters, and 226 in favour of the proposal, plus 46 form letters.

Cr Mackenzie said staff had “miscategorised” 137 negative submissions as form letters,and he took exception to a section of the report which said those in favour “expressed excitement” about the university precinct.

But after the meeting, at which he was the lone voice against the rezoning, Cr Mackenzie said it was time to move on and the issue had divided the city for too long.

Jeremy BathNewcastle Herald thatopponents of the corridor rezoning “can’t have it both ways”.

“On the one hand they claim push pollingwhile at the same time suggesting the poll result isn’t conclusive,” he said.

“The elected council has made a final decision, and not accepting it won’t make it change.

“Council understands that there is a section of the community that are opposed to the rezoning, primarily on the basis that they don’t accept the decision to remove the heavy rail.

“A look down Hunter Street shows that argument has been fought and lost.

“It’s time to accept the decision as Cr Mackenzie has done in publicly calling for a truce and for everyone to move forward collaboratively so that the rezoning delivers genuine revitalisation outcomes.”

He said the ReachTEL poll of 955 residents had cost the council$2200 plus GST.

Both Mr Bath and Mr Chrystal said the survey was a response to a successful motion by Cr Doyle and fellow former Greens councillorMichael Osborne on August 22 that community consultation includetheir support for buildings being constructed on the corridor in a way that enabled light rail to pass underneath.

“It was impossible for the survey to be included in the approved engagement plan because Cr Doyle did not inform council of her motion until the night of the August council meeting when the plan was approved,” Mr Bath said.

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