The battle over a new basketball stadium in Newcastle has become more spirited than a Falcons-Mustangs on-court local derby.
Backed by the Newcastle District Cricket Association, Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery came out during the week, stating she supported a state-of-the-art facility but opposed its proposed location, slated opposite McDonald Jones Stadium.
The popular local member felt the multi-million-dollar project, expected to cost about $39 million, was more suited to the Hunter Park sector.
“The proposal, launched by Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes on the eve of the 2023 NSW Election, to build it on Wallarah and Blackley ovals in Lambton wasn’t the right call,” she said.
“I think all can agree that the existing basketball stadium is not fit for purpose and the sport deserves an upgrade in our region.
“So, put it in a sensible area – an actual sport and entertainment precinct not a residential area.”
But, City of Newcastle (CN) has hit back at the MP’s claims.
In a statement released on Tuesday 12 December, council was keen to set the record straight.
In March, Newcastle Basketball announced it would not be proceeding with its previously communicated stadium relocation to Lake Macquarie.
Instead, its then chair announced that they would be seeking to build a new premises in Newcastle on Crown Land opposite McDonald Jones Stadium at Broadmeadow.
Part of the March declaration was a proclamation from Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper that he had secured a commitment for an additional $5 million from then Premier Dominic Perrottet.
This funding was in addition to $25 million committed by the NSW Government in 2019.
The Crown Land site, which is home to Wallarah and Blackley ovals and within a kilometre of the existing stadium, is owned by the NSW Government and managed on its behalf by CN.
Executive manager community and recreation Lynn Duffy said her team had worked closely with local sporting groups and Lambton High School to ensure that should the NSW Government approve the development of the proposed basketball stadium at Wallarah and Blackley ovals, new playing locations would be secured.
“Since April, we’ve been meeting with the organisations that use the grounds,” she explained.
“This includes both the area manager northern and the local infrastructure manager for Cricket NSW, as well as representatives from Northern NSW Football, Newcastle Football and Lambton Jaffas.
“Each has provided us with a list of their infrastructure needs so that we ensure they continue to have access to quality facilities for the long term.
“Our next meeting with each of the sporting groups is occurring on Monday.
“While construction on a new basketball stadium is not expected to start until 2025, we’re prioritising discussions with local organisations to ensure that disruptions to their sporting and recreation needs are minimised.
“We understand that relocating these clubs will require upgrading of other local fields.
“To be very clear, the basketball project is being managed by the NSW Government, funded by the NSW Government and will be assessed by the NSW Government.
“Our only role is to ensure all sporting groups continue to have access to quality facilities.
“This is not only possible but will happen well before the basketball stadium is built.
“I note Sonia Hornery has suggested that a better location for the facility would be within the proposed Hunter Park.
“This land is also owned by the NSW Government.
“The proposed basketball stadium has been declared State Significant Development by the Department of Planning and Environment, who will act as the planning authority when a DA is lodged by Newcastle Basketball.
“Members of the community will be given the chance to comment on the proposal as part of the standard assessment and public exhibition process, which will also address issues around traffic movements and stormwater management.
“Newcastle Basketball has been in talks with Venues NSW to consider a co-use arrangement for the parking at McDonald Jones Stadium, which is largely unused outside of sporting matches and larger event days.”
Cr Nelmes said council’s adopted Strategic Sports Plan included a process to support all local sporting clubs whether they be the new facilities for football and cricket under construction at Wickham Park and Darling Street or the lights being installed at Elemore Vale Reserve Field or at Stevenson Park in Mayfield.
“We work collaboratively to find solutions that help facilitate participation and the shared use of our facilities,” she declared.
“I really feel for Newcastle Basketball and welcome the commitment the NSW Government will finally deliver the long overdue stadium for the more than 5,000 local children and players who have been desperate for new facilities promised by successive NSW Governments.
“We will always work towards a collaborative solution that puts the community needs first and foremost.
“Any claim that there had been no consultation regarding the proposed new basketball stadium is incorrect.
“Given this is an NSW Government project, both formal and informal consultation processes will continue to ensure a positive outcome is reached for all parties, and that this well overdue project is not delayed even further.
“The state member for Newcastle and Shadow Minister for the Hunter were both supportive and briefed prior to Newcastle Basketball’s announcement in March this year.
“Greg Piper, as Lake Macquarie MP, made the announcement given he had secured an additional $5 million from the then Premier.
“City of Newcastle staff also informed the sporting groups prior to Newcastle Basketball’s announcement that it was hoping to build a new stadium at Blackley and Wallarah ovals.
“I’ve been advised by council staff that discussions to date with local organisations are progressing, noting the 2024 seasons will remain unaffected.
“Newcastle Basketball has made it very clear it is willing to work with the community to ensure that the project is a win for all.
“For that reason… and noting no DA has been submitted to the NSW Government, I encourage everyone to reach out to Newcastle Basketball so that all comments are evidence-based and focused on securing much-needed sporting infrastructure for our city and the basketball communities of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Port Stephens.”
The project looks far from being a “slam dunk” at this stage.
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