There is great potential for the future of the site for employment and residential land, whilst leaving a large proportion as conservation and rural land.
Hydro’s rezoning plan reflects the combination of the environmental assessment, stakeholder consultation, and strategic planning work completed for the site. Hydro has submitted planning proposals to both Cessnock City Council and Maitland City Council for the portions of land within each local government area and both councils have endorsed them. The proposals then went to the Department of Planning and Environment for a Gateway determination. The Gateway determination was approved with conditions in March 2016. One of the conditions was that the biodiversity certification must be resolved prior to a final decision.
Cessnock City Council and Maitland City Council will concurrently exhibit the proposals for community feedback prior to a final decision. The rezoning process will continue for up to 36 months, with the opportunity for more community review and input as well as input from other government agencies and the councils. A detailed contamination assessment has been completed across all landholdings and remediation strategies have also been developed.
Hydro’s proposed rezoning plan is based upon an environmental and land capability assessment which identified that land within the eastern area of the site is suitable for future residential development. The north-eastern corner of the site is already identified within the Maitland Urban Settlement Strategy as future urban land.
The proposed residential land is located between the existing urban release areas of Gillieston Heights (Maitland City Council) and Cliftleigh (Cessnock City Council). The development of this land would provide a logical extension to the existing urban release areas and in an area that both councils consider will continue to grow. In the long-term the residential land would provide connection across the government boundaries through infrastructure, open space networks, and a business precinct that would service both communities.
The former aluminium smelter had historically been a large employer within the region. Hydro is seeking the rezoning of the site and adjacent land to industrial zones in order to provide an opportunity to once again provide for long-term employment within the Hunter. The site is centrally located within the Hunter region and benefits from the Hunter Expressway and the Hart Road interchange.
The Hunter Expressway provides the site with major transport infrastructure, taking vehicles both north towards Singleton and the New England Highway, and south towards Newcastle and Sydney via Motorway 1. The expressway improves transport efficiencies between the regional centres.
To the north of the Hunter Expressway, Hydro is proposing areas to be zoned both general industrial and heavy industrial. These land use zones provide for a broad range of employment-generating land uses. The South Maitland rail line also travels through the eastern part of the broader site, providing the opportunity for connection to the existing rail network. In the long-term, connection to the South Maitland rail line may provide opportunities for rail-related industry, logistics, and other supporting industries to be located within the general or heavy industrial areas.
To the south of the Hunter Expressway, the rezoning plan identifies an area of land proposed to be rezoned as B7 business park. The business park will provide opportunities for service industries, large format retail, office, and light industry, as well as businesses that support the larger employment area.
The site has the long-term capacity to host a variety of businesses and to generate a considerable number of jobs for the region.
The buffer zone has long been home to a range of native flora and fauna, including threatened ecological communities such as Lowland Redgum Forest, Kurri Sand Swamp Woodland, and Spotted Gum – Red Ironbark Forest.
For rezoning and future development, it is required that certain levels of native land be conserved to balance potential vegetation loss when any land is developed.
Hydro sees the importance of having such a large proportion of the site for conservation, and environmental conservation has always been important to Hydro.
Hydro has undertaken native revegetation throughout the operation of the smelter and has restored areas of native habitat, which assisted in maintaining the biodiversity of the area.
The proposed development footprint has been designed to maximise the use of already cleared or degraded land, thereby reducing the impact on land of high conservation value.
Hydro’s rezoning plan includes around 235 hectares of rural land, much of which has had the same land use for decades. One such property is Wangara. The Wangara property was purchased as part of the smelter operation’s expansion in the early 1980s for inclusion in a broader buffer zone. It has been managed for grazing and other agricultural practices since that time. It is envisaged that there will be opportunities for rural activities to continue at Wangara.