Last month the Hunter and Central Coast Development Corporation (HCCDC) released the ‘Honeysuckle Foreshore Public Domain Plan’. It presents ‘design concepts’ and ‘artist impressions’ for public areas in Honeysuckle West, along the last remaining area of undeveloped foreshore.
The Plan is more or less consistent with the original Honeysuckle Public Domain Strategy (2000). But since then the rail line has been cut, the Wickham Interchange has been built and the light rail installed. This changes everything, of course, but in the Plan these changes are barely acknowledged.
This precinct is now central to the rapidly expanding commercial and residential areas of Newcastle West and Wickham. For residents, workers and visitors to the city, it is the point of connection to the waterfront and the entry to the commercial, University and entertainment precincts, the historic City centre and East End, and our world-renowned beaches. For many, it will be their first, and typically enduring, impression of the city.
The Plan should respond to the transport and other needs of people using the Interchange. Yet it provides no detail or design solutions for transport connections between the station and the foreshore, despite the inevitable increase in users as apartment developments bring thousands of new residents into the inner suburbs. Under the HCCDC proposal, arrivals by bus or train will be met at the exit by busy Hannell Street, the rear wall of the tram sheds and two large new buildings.
Despite promises of the rail closure ‘opening up the foreshore’, travellers will not be able to see the harbour and will have to navigate across Hannell Street and Honeysuckle Drive before they are even in reach of the ‘public domain’.
The Plan identifies this precinct as the ‘gateway to Honeysuckle’. The original Public Domain Strategy showed a new ‘Wickham village’, with smaller buildings set in green public space, providing at least some possibility of corridors from the Interchange to the harbour. This has clearly been abandoned. Whatever HCCDC’s intentions for development on this precinct, they must include connecting public open space across Hannell Street from the Interchange and direct sight lines and landscape connections to the harbour, providing a proper Newcastle welcome – a ‘gateway’ that actually welcomes and invites you to enter.
There are no dedicated cycleways shown in the Plan, and connections with existing or future cycleways, if any, are not clear. The shared path along the waterfront, supposedly ‘safe for fast and slow movement’, is neither, and is not the preferred option of cyclists or pedestrians. Sometimes shared paths are the only option, but when designing from scratch there is no excuse not to embrace best practice in safety and design – separated pathways for cyclists and pedestrians.
The first Honeysuckle Masterplan in 1993 showed a ferry wharf at Wickham. This proposal continues to enjoy widespread community support. A new ferry stop would connect residents from Stockton and further north to the rail services in particular. But there is no mention or allowance for this in the Plan and, if the necessary land and connections aren’t identified and protected now, this opportunity will be lost permanently.
The space allocated to the ‘public domain’ in the Plan is meagre. The Worth Place park is precinct is less than 30 metres wide, yet mooted to provide ‘flexible event spaces’, ‘interactive play elements’, ‘bespoke shade structures’ and the 10m metre wide promenade. The Cottage Creek park precinct is actually four small parks separated by the creek and further disconnected by Honeysuckle Drive, which reduces pedestrian or active transport safety. It is fancifully identified as a ‘key north-south crossing’.
HCCDC promises to place more detailed designs and documentation on public exhibition before obtaining statutory approvals. The current Plan lacks the information, analysis and imagination required to meet the complex contribution made by public space in a modern working city. It fails to address the demands and possibilities created by the Newcastle Interchange. It does not meet the basic standards of integration and connectivity necessary in the design of public spaces. Surely we have moved on from the notion that landscape architects design strictly to property boundaries, isolated conceptually and materially from the broader urban context, especially in precincts that matter so much.
Dr John Mackenzie is a Councillor for the City of Newcastle, and the Greens federal candidate for the seat of Newcastle.