STATE-owned development agency UrbanGrowth has admitted it is looking into a ‘‘number of uses’’ for the city’s rail corridor land and ways of ‘‘activating’’ the area around the existing Newcastle railway station through redevelopment.
‘‘We will be undertaking some work to understand what those opportunities may be and actually then provide advice back to government,’’ UrbanGrowth’s head of wholesale Peter Anderson told a parliamentary inquiry on Monday.
But he stressed the government was yet to make a decision on the future of the land while that work was being done – with only a month before it is scheduled to close the line to truncate the heavy rail.
UrbanGrowth, which is in charge of the overall city renewal project, has also denied it was seeking to smooth the way for the East end redevelopment it is carrying out in partnership with the GPT Group, by using its influence within government to ensure building heights for its site were increased through changes to city planning controls that were enacted following a swift public exhibition period.
‘‘At no time have we requested a shorter exhibition period of the Department of Planning,’’ Mr Anderson said.
However, an internal document written by an outgoing senior UrbanGrowth staffer noted it and the GPT Group had agreed to accelerate their project.
‘‘The timeline to submit the masterplan [development application] is presently end March 2014,’’ the document, dated February 13, says.
‘‘The latter is placed in jeopardy the longer the re-exhibition of required changes to the proposed LEP. We are not able/willing to submit a DA that is not conforming to the planning framework.’’
The document continues: ‘‘GPT are aware that the end of February target may not be achieved due to delays within the [Department of Planning]. They are relying on UrbanGrowth’s relationship with the [department] to manage this risk on the project’s behalf … The delay in LEP re-exhibition is a risk to the project.’’
Department of Planning infrastructure director Brendan O’Brien told the inquiry the bulk of the changes to planning controls had already been exhibited for four months from late 2012.
But he acknowledged increased heights for the East end site had only been exhibited for 16 days in March this year.
Liberal MP Greg Pearce said the process seemed ‘‘unusual’’ and queried whether it was a ‘‘good look’’ given the government, through UrbanGrowth, owned two-thirds of the site.
Mr O’Brien replied the changes exhibited weren’t complex and ‘‘I think on the matter of height, people form a view very, very quickly for or against [it]’’.
As was first revealed by the Herald, Mr Anderson confirmed UrbanGrowth was analysing plans for the Newcastle railway station buildings.
‘‘How about the corridor itself? Are you looking at redeveloping the railway corridor when the trains are finally stopped?’’ inquiry chairman Fred Nile asked.
‘‘We will do the analysis work on the corridor and… then report back to government what the options are,’’ Mr Anderson said.
Department of Planning and Environment secretary Carolyn McNally was also quizzed on when she learned Hunter Development Corporation general manager Bob Hawes owned stakes in properties at Wickham, where the government will build a new transport interchange.
Ms McNally, who was given her position in late July, said she was advised some time in the past three months, but the arrangement would have been endorsed by former department director general Sam Haddad when Mr Hawes was employed.
The inquiry’s interim report is expected before Christmas.
THE last of three hearings scheduled as part of an inquiry into Newcastle planning decisions has ended without appearances from any key ministers and certain senior bureaucrats involved, or Newcastle City Council’s boss.
Transport and Hunter Minister Gladys Berejiklian and Roads Minister Duncan Gay were asked to give evidence but both declined, according to the committee.
Transport for NSW bureaucrats did not appear either.
Ms Berejiklian said: ‘‘A response was provided to the inquiry from the NSW government including the relevant transport information.’’
Planning Minister Pru Goward was not asked to give evidence.
Council general manager Ken Gouldthorp was listed to give evidence on Monday afternoon by teleconference but instead provided the inquiry with a two-page letter.
He said teleconferencing would be ‘‘an unfair and less satisfactory substitute’’ to making an appearance before the committee.
He also said he had taken a trip overseas from November 3 to 21, which was ‘‘approved, booked and paid for months in advance’’ and hence could not attend an inquiry hearing in Newcastle on November 7.