The NSW government’s plans for light urban transit in Newcastle could be derailed as a result of land claims submitted by a local indigenous group.
The Awabakal Aboriginal Land Council has laid claim to a 2.2 kilometre tract of land that serves as a key thoroughfare for the NSW government's proposed light rail project in Newcastle.
The council has submitted its claim to the corridor of land under the NSW Land Rights Act, while simultaneously applying of a raft of other sites in the Newcastle region.
These include the site for the former Newcastle Bowling Club overlooking King Edward Park; bushland adjacent to the Charlestown Golf Course, and vacant land on the Esplanade Warners Bay.
According to the land council the rail corridor and other properties are currently in a state of disuse and no longer being occupied for public purposes, making them eligible for claims from indigenous groups under the Land Rights Act.
The NSW Land Rights Registrar will review the claims before making a decision as to whether or not they can proceed.
The claims process could significantly delay the development of the light rail project, as no further work can take place on disputed land until any such claims are resolved.
Should the claim prove successful, however, it may not in and of itself rule out the NSW government’s light rail ambitions for the city, with land council chief executive Steven Slee saying that the group is not necessarily opposed to development on the disputed.
Slee’s chief concern is the potential sale of land to private developers who have mishandled culturally significant sites in the past.
“We are determined not to have a repeat of what happened at the KFC site at the West End,” said Slee, referring to a restaurant development on Hunter Street that aboriginal groups have complained resulted in the loss of invaluable cultural artefacts.
The land claim nonetheless adds further to the significant challenges already facing the state government’s urban transit plans for Newcastle, with community activist group “Save Our Rail” campaigning strenuously against the truncation of the existing inner-city rail line in order to make way for the proposed light rail project.
The group scored a major coup at the end of December, when the Supreme Court granted an injunction that prevented the NSW government from tearing up part of the inner-city line to create space for the construction of its successor.
The NSW government’s light rail plan for Newcastle runs along an east-west route from a new Wickham Transport Interchange to Pacific Park, which is situated close to the city’s leading beaches.
The proposed route would utilize some of the existing rail corridor at its eastern end, before turning south to traverse the length of Hunter Street and Scott Street.
The state government hopes that the project will help re-invigourate Newcastle’s downtown area and cement the city’s status as a regional hub.