Greens Councillor John Mackenzie says a move to turn the Hunter Street pedestrian mall into a road with a higher speed limit is the consequence of planning decisions “choking the city”.
Newcastle City Council approved an “East End streetscape” plan on Tuesday night which will increase the speed limit in the mall from 10km/h to 40km/h and reinstate kerb and guttering.
Cr Mackenzie welcomed plans to beautify the area but spoke out against killing off the pedestrian mall.
“This is a good plan in many ways, except that it calls for the conversion of the Hunter Street pedestrian mall into a high speed traffic laneway, 40 kilometres an hour. I won’t support that,” he said.
“I think it’s pretty clear why that proposal is being incorporated into the streetscape plan. It’s something that I flagged in December last year, that, by the nature of the development that we were facilitating on Hunter Street and on the rail corridor … we have choked the city, the access ways to the city.”
Light rail construction on Hunter and Scott streets has forced more traffic onto Wharf Road and King Street. The tram line will reduce traffic to one lane in each direction when Hunter and Scott streets reopen to vehicles in the next few months.
“What’s happening on Hunter Street, I agree it’s out of our control as a consequence of the light rail,” Cr Mackenzie told the council.
“The building on the former rail corridor reduces its capability as a transport corridor. Wharf Road can’t take much more. So the consequence of all of that means that we have to turn Hunter Street pedestrian mall … into a 40-kilometre zone.”
He described the mall as the “only part of the city that’s working effectively”.
“It facilitates a coffee shop culture and much of the business activity and a very vibrant, activated and shared-use zone in the CBD.”
He argued successfully for the street plan to be referred to the council’s disability and cycling advisory committees while the council works on the finer details of the plan.
A report to councillors on Tuesday said converting Hunter Street into a “traditional high-street” design would “improve the amenity” of the street and provide “clear delineation between vehicles, cyclists and pedestrian spaces”.
Councillor Mackenzie disputed these claims: “Whose amenity is improved by the creation of a high traffic carriageway through the middle of a pedestrian mall? Not the families who visit the city to shop and recreate on weekends. Not the business owners who value the ambiance of a low traffic boulevard. This is a retrograde proposal, that moves inner city amenity backwards.”