Premier back-tracks on compensation promise, saying city is ‘buzzing’

WE shapeourbuildings. Thereafterthey shape us.”
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The line comes from Churchill, but it was delivered on Friday by NSW Education Minister Rob Stokes, who was in Newcastle with Premier Gladys Berejiklian for the official opening of the University of Newcastle’s NeW Space building –a $95-million landmark that vice-chancellor Caroline McMillen described at the opening as “one small part of the emergence of Newcastle as a magnet city”.

NeW Space certainly is a striking piece of architecture, and as the Newcastle Herald mingled with guests sipping orange juice and champagne high over the city, looking down onHunter Street and the light rail tracks taking steady but obvious shape, it was hard not to be caught up in the enthusiasm, in the belief that the rejuvenation of the CBD is an unalloyed force for good, if only people knewwhat was good for them.

That, at least, appeared to be the attitude Ms Berejiklian was taking on Friday when she was reminded by Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp and others about her December promises to investigate compensation for businesses struggling because of light rail construction.

Ms Berejiklian said that when she was in Newcastle two years ago, Hunter Street was a collection of closed down businesses and “vacant spots”. Now, she says, it’s “buzzing”, and that nobody needs compensating because everything is on schedule.

As we said in this space on Thursday, the Newcastle Herald rejects this argument. In relative terms the disruption is far greater in Newcastle than it has been in Sydney, where compensation is being paid. Even if the light rail turns out to be a runaway success, a relatively small number of individuals will have been trampled to make way for the greater good, and the state should recognise this, and do something about it.

As for the future of the CBD, there is no doubt that NeW Space is a pivotal piece of architecture. If the Honeysuckle campus goes ahead as the university envisages, then a substantial percentage of the student body will be doing some, or even all, of their degreein the bustle of the city, rather than the peaceful calm of the Callaghan campus.

Will this make a difference? What will it mean for the bushcampus? Only time will tell. But if Mr Stokes and Churchill are right, NeW Space itself will have a big, big influence on those outcomes.

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Thursday’s editorial on the premier’s visit

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