The head of a state government agency advocating the removal of Newcastle rail line has denied having a conflict of interest, despite telling a parliamentary inquiry that he partially owns properties near the future Wickham transport interchange.
Hunter Development Corporation general manager Bob Hawes was accused of the conflict when he was grilled by members of the Nile committee, investigating Hunter planning decisions, during the first public hearing in Newcastle on Friday.
He rejected a claim from Greens MLC David Shoebridge that he had a vested interest in proposed changes to the Newcastle rail corridor because of his property ownership.
Mr Hawes told the committee that he had recorded his ownership of the premises on HDC’s official public interest register.
He owns a 7 per cent share in 780 Hunter Street and a 50 per cent stake in 1-9 Beresford Street.
Beresford Street intersects Stewart Avenue and sits directly next the rail line, while 780 Hunter Street is on the opposite side of the block.
Committee member and Labor MLC Lynda Voltz raised the issue in the first few minutes of the hearing.
Mr Hawes told the committee that he had officially declared his stake in the properties when he became HDC’s general manager in March, 2011.
He said he also declared the interests up to 2007, when he did consultancy work for the organisation, which was then known as Honeysuckle Development Corporation.
HDC chairman Paul Broad told the hearing that Mr Hawes’ property interests near the rail corridor were on the public record and had been disclosed at all times.
“There was nothing at our board level or any matter that came up which would imply that Bob holding that piece of real estate in any way affected him,” he said.
But Greens MLC David Shoebridge accused Mr Hawes of having a conflict on interest when it came to plans for the city precinct near the location of his properties.
“Mr Hawes, do you see that you have a direct conflict of interest as an owner of land right at the centre of the proposed redevelopment of Newcastle?” Mr Shoebridge asked.
“Can you not see that that direct conflict of interest grossly compromises your position serving the public of NSW?”
Mr Hawes replied: “No, I do not agree.”
Mr Broad told the hearing that Mr Hawes was required not to participate in board discussions that impacted on the properties.
Mr Hawes said he lodged a development application for the Beresford Street property in 2005 or 2006 and also declared the DA on the HDC board’s pecuniary interest register.
Christian Democrat Fred Nile is chairing the multi-party committee that is investigating the motivations behind recent planning decisions in the Hunter.
A second hearing will be held in Newcastle on November 21.