NSW Department of Planning and Environment

The Hunter is home to some of the most diverse communities in NSW and their distinctive character is a significant competitive advantage for the region.


Many communities are set within and around the Hunter’s natural features and open space, which are among the region’s best assets. The quality of these areas and the ability to access them gives residents an array of unique experiences and the opportunity for a healthy lifestyle.


The Hunter contains natural features that are important cultural heritage for Aboriginal communities. Conserving these assets and respecting the Aboriginal communities’ right to determine how they are identified and managed will preserve some of the world’s longest-standing spiritual, historical, social and educational values.


Protecting built heritage values through revitalisation will create thriving communities that are great places to live.


2016-2036 population pyramid

Pyramid showing population change in Hunter from 2016 to 2036

Direction 17 – Create healthy built environments through good design

Communities should be designed so that they enrich the quality of life and wellbeing of residents by encouraging physical activity, social cohesion and access to healthy, locally grown food. 

Councils should consider precinct planning as a way of promoting these attributes. Precinct planning can establish a framework to achieve more intensified housing in certain places, attracting new housing development or creating mixed use economic investment through renewal.

Integrating recreational walking and cycling networks in the design of new communities will help to encourage physical activity. Opportunities to extend the network should be investigated as part of planning new residential release areas and renewal sites.

A number of planning tools are available to support planning for healthy communities, including the Hunter New England Population Health 2012 Liveability Assessment Tool.

Access to locally grown fresh food also supports healthy communities and broader sustainability objectives. There should be increased access to food production in urban areas and in adjoining spaces through community gardens, which provide home-grown produce, and through better access to produce grown in surrounding agricultural areas.


17.1 Develop best-practice guidelines for planning, designing and developing healthy built environments.

17.2 Enhance access to fresh food by promoting initiatives that increase urban food production and access to produce from local farmers.

17.3 Enhance the quality of neighbourhoods by integrating recreational walking and cycling networks into the design of new communities to encourage physical activity.

Direction 18 – Enhance access to recreational facilities and connect open spaces

Expanding on the recreational walking and cycling trails that already exist in the region will allow more people to experience the region’s wonderful natural areas. This includes extending the Great North Walk – a 250-kilometre bushwalking track that already links Sydney to the Hunter Valley and Newcastle – along the coast to Forster and inland. Investigations are under way on the Richmond Vale Rail Trail, which will provide a recreation link between Newcastle and Kurri Kurri.

The Hunter has an extensive network of open space spread across 9,775 hectares  of land that provides many opportunities for people to experience the environment.24 By 2036, the network of recreation facilities, open space and bushland will extend to form a ‘green grid’ across the region. Within Greater Newcastle, this means there will be connections between Glenrock State Conservation Area, Blue Gum Hills Regional Park and Blackbutt Reserve.

The waterways in the region, such as Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and Manning River, support important water-based recreational activities including both powered and non-powered boating activities.


18.1 Facilitate more recreational walking and cycling paths including planning for the Richmond Vale Rail Trail and expanded inter-regional and intra-regional walking and cycling links, including the NSW Coastal Cycleway.

18.2 Deliver connected biodiversity-rich corridors and open space areas for community enjoyment.

18.3 Enhance public access to natural areas, including coastal and lake foreshores.

18.4 Assist councils to develop open space and recreation strategies that identify a range of accessible open space and recreation opportunities; integrate open space, active transport and recreation networks; and improve public foreshore access.

18.5 Implement actions and invest in boating infrastructure priorities identified in regional boating plans to improve boating safety, boat storage and waterway access.

Direction 19 – Identify and protect the region's heritage

Cultural heritage is important to communities by providing tangible connections to the past. Heritage items can also attract tourism, which can contribute to local economies.

Interpreting and adaptively reusing built heritage items has been successful in giving smaller communities across the State a new lease on life. Enhancing main streets through heritage conservation creates authenticity, attracts new businesses and residents, and offers tourism potential, as demonstrated in Morpeth. It is worth investigating opportunities to do this in the region as it can contribute to building resilience in smaller communities such as Stroud, Denman and Wingham.

The Hunter contains natural features that are important to the cultural heritage of Aboriginal communities. Conserving these assets, and respecting the Aboriginal community’s right to determine how they are identified and managed, will preserve their significant values.


19.1 Consult with the local Aboriginal communities to identify and protect heritage values to minimise the impact of urban growth and development, and to recognise their contribution to the character and landscape of the region.

19.2 Assist the preparation of appropriate heritage studies to inform the development of strategic plans, including regional Aboriginal cultural heritage studies.

Direction 20 – Revitalise existing communities

The region is home to diverse communities located throughout the Hunter’s urban areas, towns, villages and rural localities. These places have unique histories and a strong sense of identity.

Concentrating development in existing areas will revitalise communities. It can reinforce and enhance the sense of community and belonging.

As the population grows there is potential to provide more social infrastructure, including health, education, community facilities and public transport, as well as opportunities to enhance open spaces, civic squares and other gathering places.

The design of centres can make them more attractive for residents. There are ways to do this, such as transforming traditional main streets through place-making and other small-scale improvements. Good design can help to create accessible, safe and attractive local areas.


20.1 Accelerate urban revitalisation by directing social infrastructure where there is growth.

20.2 Undertake planning and place-making for main streets and centres.

20.3 Enhance the amenity and attractiveness of existing places.

Supporting increases in walking and cycling

Greater Newcastle has an extensive and expanding walking and cycling network. This network provides excellent opportunities for recreational and commuter walking, cycling and jogging, and includes:

  • Bathers Way, which was upgraded under the Newcastle Coastal Revitalisation Program, providing five kilometres of uninterrupted shared pathways from Nobbys Head to Glenrock Reserve, taking in Newcastle’s five main beaches;
  • a number of scenic shared paths along the foreshores of Newcastle Harbour and Lake Macquarie;
  • the Tramway Track connecting Wallsend and Glendale; and
  • the 15-kilometre Fernleigh Track, which winds through unique coastal habitats along a former railway.

Parts of Greater Newcastle have some of the highest rates of cycling in the State and walking is popular with people of all ages. Greater Newcastle is predominately flat and its high levels of employment create the right conditions to leverage the increasing popularity of walking and cycling. However, increases in use need to be supported by the creation of an active transport network that builds on existing links.

Supporting initiatives to extend this network will help to boost the physical activity and potential health and wellbeing of residents across the region. Integrating the recreational walking and cycling networks with commuter connections to centres, bus networks and railway stations will help to increase commuter walking and cycling use, support the public transport network and reduce congestion. There are also economic benefits associated with increases in walking and cycling, including the potential boost to tourism.

Improvements are being made to the planning and delivery of Greater Newcastle’s active transport network. This includes the CycleSafe proposal, an initiative that aims to connect 90 kilometres of existing cycle paths with a 140-kilometre network of new construction to deliver a system of safe, easy-to-follow walking and cycling connections throughout Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.

A number of extensions and improvements to the network are being planned and constructed. This includes upgrades outlined in Transport for NSW’s Walking and Cycling Program and the NSW Cycling Infrastructure Fund.

Page last updated: 13/05/2022