Monday, July 29, 2013

No point cutting out city's historic heart

Opinion Piece - Newcastle Herald  27th July By Ann Hardy 2013
I agree with Lord Mayor McCloy that more affordable housing is needed, especially given the prospect of an expanded university campus in the near future. Councillor McCloy’s vision is that the current city skyline be replaced with new modern towers. He suggests that height restrictions be lifted, and for the impact to the historic skyline including the beautiful Christ Church Cathedral, be disregarded as old fashioned thinking. Given the bulk of the land holdings to the north of the Cathedral are owned by GPT and Urban Growth, Councillor McCloy must be envisaging a mix of residential and retail towers, maybe a bulky goods shopping centre, to be the new city skyline.

Increased building heights are already part of the Newcastle planning framework. Heights have been increased further or reaffirmed in the draft Newcastle Urban Renewal Strategy – up to 90 metres in Newcastle West. So why spoil the historic heart of the city by removing views to our iconic and architecturally significant Cathedral, by replacing it with blocks of concrete and glass – when there are alternative locations for multi high rise towers? Imagine what our city will look like if increased building heights north of the Cathedral are to occur. Vistas to and from the Cathedral will be impacted, views to the Cathedral from Nobbys, Fort Scratchley, Stockton and the harbour would effectively be destroyed. The outcome would be a diminished city centre, not a vibrant one, with one of our city’s major visual assets gone. It will mean that when you stand at the foreshore, you’ll no longer catch a glimpse of the Obelisk, buildings in The Hill, or the Cathedral - all important lines of sight that remind us why Newcastle is unique and interesting.

It would not have the same impact for those cruising into the harbour if the Cathedral was not able to be experienced in full view. This is our jewel in the crown. Increased building heights would seriously impact the city's historic character and setting.

Other cities don't target their historic hearts for increased development, especially when other solutions are available – in fact truly vibrant cities are those where there is a complex interplay of new and old – not just new replacing old as Councillor McCloy is suggesting. Planning in Newcastle must be carefully considered to respect its character and certainly the planning framework has for many years produced a variety of new buildings - all of which have maintained the views of the Cathedral.

In Newcastle the visual landscape of our city is equally important as the rich mix of heritage buildings in the city centre. The eastern precinct respects the topography of the Hill area and has a San Fransican feel – this has long been recognised as key to our City’s competitive advantage over other regional coastal cities like Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour – sorry coastal cousins, but Newcastle towers above with its visual beauty.

The city's historic landscape is worth retaining, not only for cultural and social reasons but for economic reasons. It is what makes Newcastle special. People come here to experience its attractive and special character. Why jeopardise this when there are other solutions. Heights of up to 90metres have been proposed for City West – this is the logical area for increased building heights. Perhaps GPT and Urban Growth could turn their attention to City West rather than seeking to up-scale their land holdings in front of the Cathedral.