After 9 years as an elected councillor on Cessnock City Council with a stated desire to see economic reform happen and jobs growth take Cessnock from one of the lowest Socio- Economic status (SEIFA INDEX) in Australia to one of the best has been shown to have got us nowhere. My dreams of an economic recovery have been dashed.
In the meantime (same period) we have witnessed exponential growth at Steel River Mayfield West, Beresfield and Thornton Industrial Estates, Rutherford and Anambah Industrial Estates in Maitland, while in Cessnock we have seen only two job creating businesses open on the Weston Industrial Estate and Alfabs Engineering an established business going from strength to strength.
Cessnock was one of the wealthiest coal producing areas in Australia and we are now witnessing the closure of the last remaining underground mines at Donaldson/Abel-Tasman and Yancoal’s Austar mine at Paxton gone, leaving the community with only one open  cut mine at Buchanan still operating.
On top of this we witnessed the closure of the Hydro Aluminium Smelter at Kurri Kurri in 2014 leaving an economic hole of some $50 million in wages to the Cessnock area and hundreds unemployed. Due in part to various political and industrial issues this plant closed many years before its use by date.
The 900 hectare Hunter Economic Zone was approved back in 2000 yet due to concerted efforts by the local Greens, NIMBY’s and INERTIA by council it has never got off the ground.
On the upside we saw the opening of the Hunter Expressway in March 2014 and finally the start of the new town Huntlee after 8 years being held up in the courts by Greens, NIMBY’s and INERTIA by council.
The Rosehill development at Millfield finally was approved and sold off, Wyndham Ridge at Greta also approved and is now sold off. We also saw the approval granted for Cliftleigh Meadows and Avery’s Rise in the Heddon Greta area.
We don’t lack the potential for jobs growth as our residential block sales attest but we need to get industrial land up and selling. The redevelopment of the Hydro Smelter site and Black Hill Industrial parks need to be fast tracked to create employment opportunities before anymore largescale residential land is released.
As I see it, all that the Cessnock LGA is becoming at present is a satellite suburb of Newcastle and the wider Hunter areas. There is little in the way of serious planning approvals being undertaken for industry and jobs attraction.
Both of the Cessnock LGA business districts, Cessnock and Kurri Kurri are under stress with no large anchor tenants to create strong retail activity and we are now witnessing what a one industry town is like when disaster hits, with the tourism sector ‘Wine Country’ on its knees due to the COVID epidemic.
In closing, I would hope that in the short term the link roads from the Hunter Expressway get the upgrades they deserve and that the Hydro and Black Hill industrial sites get approved.
The council is more interested in social and community issues and if it doesn’t change its attitude to economic development, ECONOMIC INERTIA will continue to PLAGUE Cessnock into the future.
Rod Doherty
19 August 2021