The Draft Hunter Regional Plan and Draft Plan for Growing Hunter City

On the 24 March 2016, submissions on the Draft Hunter Regional Plan and Draft Plan for Growing Hunter City (the Plan) were finalised and the NSW Department of Environment and Planning (DP&E) can now commence the task of reviewing all of the submissions. While there are many aspects that warrant further discussion and consideration for DP&E including governance and housing, the following focuses on what I believe are some of the key issues for consideration for infrastructure and the environment in the Hunter.

Currently the plan does not include a great deal of detail relating to specific infrastructure and would benefit from the inclusion of specific actions in relation to the plan for infrastructure delivery including the identification of appropriate funding arrangements. The Plan is a 20 year vision and it would be advantageous to set criteria for prioritising infrastructure delivery for the whole of the Hunter Region not just the inner west Maitland – New England corridor.

The Plan’s identification for the need to enhance inter-regional transport, focussing on the Port of Newcastle and the Newcastle Airport as the engine room of this enhancement is a big step in the right direction.

While the Plan recognises the importance of the freight rail network, recent events have highlighted the urgent need for the State Government to prioritise the planning for the freight rail corridor. The Plan currently only mentions the potential for High Speed rail, and while High Speed Rail may have a place in the future and should not be discounted, the potential for the Hunter to capitalise on linkages to the proposed Inland Rail Project, particularly to link in with Newcastle Port to unlock further opportunities for diversification at the Port is an issue that should be included.

Infrastructure should not just focus on transport. The Plan would greatly benefit from further emphasis on enhancing and identifying the strategic vision for telecommunications including the National Broadband Project which is currently being rolled out in the Hunter. The reliance of communities and businesses on telecommunication infrastructure is ever increasing. Focus on the telecommunications industry will also aid in building the knowledge economy for the Hunter Region in addition to supporting the health industry centred on the John Hunter Hospital and education centred around both TAFE and the University of Newcastle.

The intention to protect and connect the natural environments within the Hunter is a positive aspect for the strategic 20 year vision. In the Hunter region there are a number of land use conflicts that directly impact on the natural landscape including mining, agriculture, viticulture and urban development. Historical land use has resulted in the vegetation on the floor of the Hunter Valley typically being of high environmental value. There is a real opportunity in the Hunter for the NSW Government to adopt a whole of Government strategic environmental assessment approach to identify broad scale impacts early at the regional scale rather than on an ad hoc basis at the development assessment stage. Strategic environmental assessments are successfully being implemented around the nation and there is no reason why they cannot also be adopted here.

The Plan would benefit from further detail and integration with the current review into coastal legislation, planning and management framework. The iconic beaches and coastal areas of the Hunter are relied upon by a number of industries including ports and tourism as well as being one aspect of our enviable lifestyle here in the Hunter. Given the current timelines associated with both these state government reviews there is time for this integration to be realised.

The Plan is the first of its kind since the 2006 Lower Hunter Strategy and provides a real opportunity to map out the 20 year strategic vision for the Hunter Region. The incorporation of the Upper and Lower Hunter is a positive and DP&E have an excellent platform that, with some further consideration could achieve major benefits for our region over the next 20 years.

If you would like further information please contact Tim Browne on (02) 4950 5322 or tbrowne@umwelt.com.au.