Newcastle’s Christ Church Cathedral will now stand as the height benchmark for NSW’s second city under new planning controls.
Minister for Planning Pru Goward said extensive community consultation on the planning controls has resulted in a decrease in maximum building height in an objective to protect the aesthetic of Newcastle's skyline.
"We always said these plans should and would be informed by the community, that's why the Department of Planning and Environment has moved to reduce the maximum building height to ensure the heritage integrity of the Newcastle skyline," Goward said.
The maximum building height in Newcastle will not exceed the height (approximately 60 metres) of the parapet of the Christ Church Cathedral nave - a building that remains the tallest in the city. A move that Goward refers to as an "acceptable compromise" regarding a host of high-rise proposals for the city.
"These planning controls will help shape the city centre to take advantage of the significant investment in new public transport being made by the NSW Government in partnership with council and the community," she said.
However, the government objectives continue to be questioned by industry professionals and community members voicing their concerns that Australia's second oldest city is not receiving the historic attention it deserves.
In a recent opinion piece written for The Herald, Dr Ann Hardy, a historian and cultural advocate expressed scepticism that the choice was community-driven. She also questioned the lack of cultural and environmental assessments that seriously consider the urban historic landscape of Newcastle.
"Sadly, what we currently have are planning instruments that allow destruction of the city’s historic character, for quick economic gain," she wrote. "I think the community understands Newcastle’s uniqueness and its relevance in the future. There can be economic windfalls for us all in the long term if we invest in the city’s cultural heritage assets."
The new regulations have seen a proposed project of three towers on the GPT/URban Growth site in the East End reduced by 10.6 metres, a positive result according to the government.
Following the exhibition of the Local Environment Plan (LEP) and Development Control Plan (DCP) in March, 266 submissions were received directing the new maximum building height decision. The site has been reduced from 69.5 metres (approximately 20 storeys) to 58.9 metres (approximately 17 storeys).
This move was also supported by Member for Newcastle Tim Owen who was pleased to see the East End height regulations assessed.
"It is possible to protect the things we value while providing the housing and jobs we will need into the future, and that's what I'm very pleased to have seen happen here," Owen said.
In contrast, president of the Newcastle Inner City Residents Alliance Geoff Evans calls the height compromise a "joke."
"I don't know where she (Ms Goward) thinks she's looking from to say that the proposed high rise will be lower than the parapet of the Cathedral," Evans told ABC. "It won't be from most places in the inner city, it will still dominate, and overshadow and shade the local areas and kill the atmosphere of inner city Newcastle."
Despite concerns for the city's cultural fabric, Lord Mayor of Newcastle Jeff McLoy said that the new planning controls recognised Newcastle's bright future and were essential to guide and shape the city's growth.
"I want to make sure that our city is prepared for the future and a modern set of planning controls for the city's centre is an important first step in helping the city realise it's full potential," McLoy said.
These planning controls are part of a larger Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy that has been designed to respond to a population increase for the town, which is projected to reach 190,000 by 2031 - a 22 per cent increase.
This population increase also raises questions as to what impact the new building heights will have as a result of a lower density and urban sprawl for a city with vertical limits and urban growth.
On a positive note, the height regulations do join a list of recent updates to Newcastle's strategy which include:
- Re-establishing Hunter Street as the City's main street, revitalising the mall and the East End;
- Promoting jobs growth by allowing for a University of Newcastle presence in the CBD, including a previously announced $25 million contribution from the NSW Government;
- Attracting retail back to the city centre, creating jobs and encouraging shopper activity;
- Taking advantage of the NSW Government's investment in light rail and other public transport improvements and the renewal of Newcastle; and
- Delivering new connections between the city centre and the waterfront.