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.

The rezoning plan presented reflects the combined results of the environmental assessment, stakeholder consultation and strategic planning work completed for the site. Hydro has submitted planning proposals to both Cessnock and Maitland Councils for the portions of land within each local government area and both councils have endorsed them. The proposals then went to the DP&E for a Gateway determination. The Gateway determination was approved with conditions in March 2016.

Conditions included additional environmental assessment of the site and further assessment of the future impacts of development on the site. When these conditions are met, the proposals will progress to the next stage, which is consultation and public exhibition for community feedback, managed concurrently by both councils. One of the Gateway conditions was that the biodiversity certification must be resolved prior to a final decision on rezoning. Another was the requirement for a flood study to be completed which takes into account the Tester’s Hollow area.

The flood study was completed in 2018. Currently the rezoning process is expected to be finalised by the end of 2021.

Residential land

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 be 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, and open space networks that would service both communities.

Employment land

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.

The South Maitland Railway 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 South Maitland Railway may provide opportunities for rail-related industry, logistics, and other supporting industries to be located within the employment zones.

To the south of the Hunter Expressway, the rezoning plan identifies an area of land proposed to be rezoned as a 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.

Conservation land

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 other 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 its ownership 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.