Maitland rail commuters are outraged at the state government’s announcement to sell a 99-year lease for the Port of Newcastle.
Announced in yesterday’s budget, the sweetener was that $340 million would be used to redevelop the CBD in the form of light rail between Wickham and Newcastle.
This was in addition to the $120 million already allocated to revitalise Newcastle CBD.
Treasurer Mike Baird said the lease would allow the government to “turbo-charge” the project’s priority and make Newcastle a modern city.
He said $10 million would be allocated to look at the potential for a light rail network that linked the CBD with Newcastle’s suburbs and beaches as well as the broader Hunter region.
Newcastle apprentices Reece Burgoyne, Jordan Evans and Andrew Webb use the Maitland-Newcastle rail line to travel to the Hunter Trade College at Telarah as well as for recreation and could not understand the government’s reasoning.
“It’s a stupid idea, I’m confused how they think this is a good idea,” Mr Burgoyne said.
“There’s no point to what they are going to do, leasing the Port of Newcastle to pay for it is going to reduce the state’s revenue and we’re going to end up paying for it.
The money will be facilitated through the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund and Mr Baird promised any left-over money would stay in the Hunter.
Save Our Rail president Joan Dawson said the decision was an attempt to make a quick buck.
“This is going to be the destruction of the city,” she said.
Ms Dawson said light rail should be implemented in parts of the city where there was no rail access.
The Hunter Business Chamber, a long-time light rail advocate, praised the decision.
“Light rail is a good plan and it will allow people from Maitland and up the valley to travel straight to the beach,” Maitland Business Chamber president Steve Thomson said.
Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said leasing the port would lock the Hunter into a coal-based future.
He said the plans for Newcastle CBD were short-sighted and would have a negative impact.
“The income value of the port over 99 years is at least $23 billion and could be up to $128 billion, yet the government is going to sell it for less than $1 billion,” he said.
A scoping study will be conducted to ensure the 99-year lease will offer value for money.
Planning and Infrastructure Minister Brad Hazzard said the plan showed the business community that Newcastle should be a magnet for developers’ dollars.