THE ‘‘new town’’ of Huntlee, near Branxton in the Hunter, may some day prove to be the regional asset its promoters claim.

Indeed, the advent of the Hunter Expressway could be seen to negate one of the main early criticisms of the development project – that it was remote from effective transport corridors.

It was chiefly this shortcoming that was believed to have led to the proposal originally being ranked by the planning department at the bottom of a long list of potential Hunter residential areas.

When it bobbed up, along with other bottom-of-the-list proposals, on the former Labor government’s Lower Hunter Regional Strategy, as an officially favoured site, many critics accused the government of pandering to its development industry friends and donors.

From that inauspicious beginning, Huntlee has worked its way through various court cases. Opponents scored some early victories, but Labor dragged the proposal under its controversial 3A planning legislation – a move that the latest court hearing has found ensures the legality of the land’s rezoning from low-value rural to high-value residential.

That’s not likely to be the end of the fight, with opponents of the proposal still seeking legal chinks in the project’s armour and threatening new challenges on environmental grounds.

But it is a major win for the developer, Perth-based LWP Property Group.

LWP will now seek approval for the first stage of the development, comprising about 2000 residential lots and 68 ha of ‘‘employment lands’’. Ultimately, the developer expects the $1.5 billion project to provide up to 7500 homes, 3000 jobs and 200 ha of employment lands.

Unfortunately for LWP it has a controversial legacy to live down with Huntlee, at least as far as public perception is concerned. The fingerprints of the old Labor administration, with all the negatives that entails, will remain with the project for some time to come.

The developer, and the O’Farrell government, should be at pains to ensure that every step taken on this project from now on is handled with the greatest care and sensitivity so that whatever may eventually be approved will have legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

Hunter training

A SHORTAGE of skilled labour has been identified as a potential constraint on growth, particularly in Australia’s booming mining industry.

The federal government has responded by setting up a new committee to help streamline and improve the national apprenticeship system. The government is talking, for example, about making apprenticeships portable between states.

This committee could do worse than spend some time visiting the Hunter to learn about practical innovation in workplace training.

For decades the region has been a quiet pioneer in this area, thanks to a co-operative approach between key Hunter employers, educational institutions and organisations like the Hunter Valley Training Company.