Maitland mayor and GM nominate highs and lows of 2014

BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: Former premier Barry O’Farrell and Maitland MP Robyn Parker with Maitland mayor Cr Peter Blackmore and then minister for planning and infrastructure Brad Hazzard announce plans at Maitland Sportsground for an $8 million ­transformation of the facility.The Mercury asked Maitland City Council general manager David Evans and the mayor Cr Peter Blackmore to name five areas where council excelled this year and a couple where there was room for improvement.

Council ticked some important boxes like roads and even had a hand in some job creation that’s expected to come through next year.

Throw in some quality tourism events and a solid start on The Levee project and 2014 turned out a busy one.

SPORTS FACILITIESThe past year has been positive for sports fans and a visit from state cabinet kicked it off.

“The first one is that we hosted the state cabinet meeting, which resulted in some good announcements,” Cr Blackmore said. “It was also good that the opportunity was there for community groups and people to discuss issues with the ministers.”

Planning soon started on No. 1 Sportsground to transform it into an $8 million facility of regional significance co-funded by the state.

Stockland took the wraps off McKeachies Sportsground that has two playing pitches, lighting and some impressive change sheds.

“McKeachies Sportsground is magnificent,” Cr Blackmore said.

The Maitland Netball Association also received $50,000 in June from the state government’s Community Building Partnership and council has been heavily involved in the planning for its new club house.

STOCKLANDPLANSA revised set of plans for the Stockland shopping centre at Green Hills were approved this year signalling a start to the $350 million upgrade in 2015.

Council has worked with Stockland through four rounds of planning revisions.

“When a lot of people come to Maitland they think about jobs for their children and when there are 1300 jobs in the offing this development is important,” Cr Blackmore said.

The latest plans council approved this year show Myer leasing space on the top floor. There will be 24,926 square metres of specialty retail space and the number of car parks will more than double to 3203.

ROAD PROJECTSRoads crew undertook two big jobs in-house in 2014 with work on McKimms Road between the third river crossing and Largs, and Arthur Street outside Rutherford shopping centre.

McKimms Road was widened and made much safer as result of the $2.9 million project since it was never designed to carry the traffic the third river crossing introduced.

The Arthur Street project was worth $3.5 million included a median strip and a roundabout to improve safety in a busy precinct.

“We’ve been able to complete these ourselves, which means a lot to us and our staff,” Cr Blackmore said.

EVENTSThe events team at Maitland City Council has worked hard to carve out some popular events on the social calendar.

These include Australia Day at Maitland Park, New Year’s Eve, Bitter and Twisted, Riverlights Multicultural Festival, and Taste and Aroma festivals.

“[Events] has been a growing area, but it’s been very popular,” Cr Blackmore said.

“Our staff work hard and its tremendous to see the volunteers give their time to these events.”

Cr Blackmore said Australia Day was a big improvement on years past.

“Just think, Australia Day [celebrations] used to be at the corner of Bulwer and High streets on the back of a truck,” he said.

“Have a look at it now and the number of people turning up and the number becoming Australian citizens.”

THE LEVEE: Harley Borg and Scott Collis (rear) at work in The Levee.

THE LEVEE PROJECTWhile not yet finished, The Levee scrapes onto the list as a major undertaking.

“I know we’ve [still] got The Levee under construction, but the commencement of the work has started after a long gestation,” Mr Evans said.

“The milestone was the commencement of work in the street.”

Stage One is worth $10 million and when complete in February will reintroduce cars to the street entering at the post office and existing at Elgin Street.

There will be parallel parking, kiosks and alfresco dining.

Mr Evans said The Levee was only the beginning of the Maitland CBD revival with opportunities identified including sprucing up laneways as has been done in Melbourne.

“There’s opportunity in these strategies for redevelopment and laneway activation,” Mr Evans said.

“I think we’ll really see the benefits of these over time as we start to see more investment in the city.”

The second stage of The Levee has been shortlisted for a share of mining royalties, which is a milestone itself.

Previously, Maitland had not qualified for Resources for Regions.

EVANS’ BATTLESMaitland City Council general manager David Evans accepts that 2014 wasn’t blemish free.

“There are some things that aren’t progressing as well as we would like, but we expect that they will gain momentum next year,” Mr Evans said.

One of them is the $180,000application for closed circuit television at Maitland train station, Rutherford shops and in The Levee project.

“The CCTV is one of them we will continue to pursue,” Mr Evans said.

“We’re making provision for the cameras in The Levee project in anticipation of the funding.”

In the last days of the Labor government Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon announced money for the project.

The Coalition maintained that, because contracts had not been exchanged before the election, the announcement was nothing more than an election promise.

In the weeks after the election the Coalition announced the Safe Cities scheme, having made promises to other regions.

“The response we got was that we weren’t on the eligible list,” Mr Evans said.

MAYOR’S LAMENTSProgress wasn’t as strong in some areas as council would have liked.

Detailed planning is still under way on a heated, 25-metre pool and the Maitland Town Hall performance space, as well as the No. 1 Sportsground.

“It’s a case where it has unfortunately taken a bit more time to make sure that we can achieve the best outcome from the money available,” Cr Blackmore said.

“We’re now well-placed in the new year to move ahead with contact tenderisation.”

The past year was stacked with major projects worth more than $35 million.

These include The Levee worth $10 million scheduled for completion in February, the 11.3 million affordable housing precinct at Athol Dombrain Drive, the $7million heated pool and the $8 million regional sportsground (No.1 Sportsground).

“These five projects sit over and above our normal $12 million to $14 million capital works program,” Cr Blackmore said.

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