The head of Newton BIA is calling on city hall to produce “refreshed plans” for how the area is going to be revitalized, after the light rail project has been axed.
“LRT was going to be the catalyst for revitalization and transform Newton. In my opinion with the decision to stop all work on the LRT line, the community of Newton has been abandoned again,” said Philip Aguirre who, in addition to heading the business group, runs his family’s Old Surrey Restaurant in the area.
“With 146,000 people and 33 per cent of all business in Surrey, the business case and land use plan were going to shape the future growth of the community. Redevelopment, increased density and a vibrant connected livable community have now all been delayed another 20 years.”
Newton Town Centre would have been home to one of the terminus stations for the 10-5-kilometre LRT line, which would have run from Guildford down 104th Avenue to City Centre and from there down King George Boulevard to Newton. The end of the line would have bended off King George to a TransLink-owned property south of 72nd Avenue on King George.
While Surrey’s former city council had aimed to have a new land use plan for the area completed this winter, it was rather dependent – and built around – the construction of light rail.
The LRT plan came to a screeching halt when Mayor Doug McCallum and the new Surrey council voted unanimously to nix the project in favour of his promise to extend SkyTrain down Fraser Highway all the way to Langley.
Aguirre said McCallum and the councillors have not “made it a priority to discuss these issues with the Newton BIA.”
As of Nov. 30, Aguirre said he had not been contacted by any members of Surrey’s new city council, or city staff, since the project was nixed.
“I believe we are jeopardizing the future of Newton,” said Aguirre. “The town centre will not be connected to the rest of the city with rapid transit for a very long time. The future outlook for small independent businesses that would trigger economic growth and jobs in the area could stagnate for the immediate future. The vision of creating a cultural entertainment district without rapid transit seems unlikely.”
Aguirre wondered what MLAs Harry Bains and Jinny Sims, as well as MP Sukh Dhaliwal, think of McCallum’s new plan, for a SkyTrain extension down Fraser Highway to Langley.
“Is the provincial and federal government satisfied that Newton will have to wait for another 20 plus years? Refreshed plans for how the community is going to be revitalized have been piling up over the past 30 years. It’s disappointing that Newton will have to start all over again.”
What was the plan for Newton?
Overall, the existing plan envisions a transit-oriented, mixed-use urban centre with walkable streets.
What’s next for Newton?
How will things change, now that the light rail plan has come to a screeching halt?
Councillor Doug Elford, who was a longtime and outspoken advocate for his community of Newton for years, said he’s broached the topic with McCallum.
“He’s assured me that we are going to run a SkyTrain line to Newton, and it’s going to be done in 10 years,” Elford told the Now-Leader. “But of course there are short-term concerns as well. What are we going to get? It is early days, and we’ll be talking to planners and staff. We need to re-jig this… What can we do to help the community immediately versus the long-term plan? We don’t really have the answers yet per se, but it’s certainly on my mind.”
Elford said he’s talked with parks and recreation staff about what can be done in the downtown core.
“A lot of it has to do with the budget, as I’m quickly learning,” he noted. “But it’s important to note Newton is not just the town centre. Newton is the size of Kelowna.”
Elford said his Safe Surrey Coalition is proposing and will lobby for a rapid bus network to increase transit frequency along King George, in the meantime.
“I think that will really speed things up and down the corridor for people,” he said.
The rookie councillor acknowledged Newton has taken its fair share of social services over the years.
“I live near Unwin Park. We see the prostitution. Every day I see the homeless. I see the need for shelters there,” he said, but acknowledged that it would be a hard sell to the community.
Elford stressed his commitment to his neighbourhood of Newton.
“I’ll be lobbying council to focus in that direction. I can’t promise anything yet, we’re still getting our feet wet, particularly me, but certainly that’s not something I have forgotten about. My neighbours will remind me,” he chuckled.
Elford praised Aguirre for his work in the community, saying he “has put his blood, sweat and tears into the community.”
“It’s tough for him, because everything was based on LRT. All guns a-blazin’ and it’s full stop now. It’s a shock. But I talked to so many people who were so against LRT, and the concept. It astounded me. People have spoken, and they spoke in the votes.”
After a poll-by-poll analysis, the Now-Leader confirmed McCallum topped the polls in Newton.McCallum received 15,368 votes to rival Tom Gill’s 8,217 and Bruce Hayne’s 5,213.
The Now-Leader tried to contact McCallum for more details on how plans for Newton Town Centre would change under his leadership, but a request for comment was denied.
Aguirre said he expects consultation, yet again.
“The next phase for Newton Town Centre is inevitably, we have to go back to consultation,” said Aguirre.
“It’s just fatigue. Residents’ fatigue of putting out new plans. When you want residents to be part of the solution, and nothing happens, then you ask them to be part of the solution again. They lose faith in the process. They go through this process over and over again.”
Aguirre also said Surrey council needs to do a better job informing the public of their new vision.
“What is Newton receiving? Will we be a priority? What is the plan? I fear in the future that there will be a consolation prize. What’s going to be the carrot that gets thrown out?” said Aguirre. “There’s still lots of confusion out there about what the actual plan is for Newton. There are still people saying SkyTrain is coming to Newton. Maybe the shovels will start in a decade and it will finish in 18 years.”
Aguirre said there’s also been land speculation along the King George corridor, with the light rail plan having been approved, and the city’s land use plans for the town centre nearing completion.
“Those speculations have increased prices in the town centre, without now, any hope of having a return on investment. All that have bought on the corridor, as you’d imagine, there’s a plan in place, it’s approved and funding is in place and the speculation has happened on those properties. And now, what?”
Some upgrades have been realized in Newton in recent years. There were $8 million in improvements done to the Newton Wave Pool and rec centre in 2017. And, in the past five years, other improvements have included a pond, renovations to Newton’s library, cultural centre and seniors centre.
The city has also undergone a variety of works at parks throughout all of Newton, including expanding the parking lot at Newton Athletic Park and installing a new playground, washrooms, waterpark, walking loop and more.
A variety of other upgrades include a cricket fieldhouse and new playground at West Newton Community Park, new lighting for rugby and kabaddi at Sullivan Heights Park, as well as new pathways and parking lot expansion at Bear Creek Park. New playgrounds have also been built at Sullivan and Frank Hurt parks.
What do politicians at higher levels think of the move to cancel LRT and how it impacts Newton?
Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains said “people in Newton have waited for so long, they need more public transportation into that area.
“Development of Newton is dependent on the public transportation,” Bains added.
“We just can’t have further delays, we need more public transit in the area.”
Bains said if a King George Boulevard line is not a priority for Mayor McCallum, “the people of Newton and businesses of Newton would be looking to hear what the alternative would be in the meantime.”
“Newton needs something,” Bains added.
He acknowledged the technology and location of rapid transit is decided by the municipal government and Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation, but said the traffic woes in Surrey have gotten out of hand. Bains said he had a “very productive meeting” with McCallum and the new council and “told him we’d work with the local governments. When you work together you make progress.”
For his part, Surrey-Newton MP Sukh Dhaliwal said “when it comes to the policy of the federal government, the prime minister and our government has made very clear that we are going to work with the local mayor and the council and the regional district because those are the ones that make that decision, because we are not the ones that make the determination.”
Asked if he supported McCallum in his campaign, Dhaliwal said “I did not support anyone actively in this campaign. When it comes to Doug McCallum, my relationship with Doug is not hidden; it’s been open long before I got involved in politics. I have a relationship with Doug McCallum and I call him my friend. He’s been a longtime friend of mine.”
Does he support McCallum’s plan to kill LRT in Newton?
“As the federal representative, I was going to work with any of those who got elected,” Dhaliwal replied. “People obviously, and particularly Newton, alright, they have clearly spoken and they have given mandate to Doug McCallum and his team and I’m looking forward to working, as an elected representative, with Doug McCallum and his team and let the decision be made by the mayor and the council and the regional district and then we’ll make the determination as federal elected representatives.
“Because one thing is very clear, our government has committed money for infrastructure right, and that commitment is there. We are going to deliver that money to the region when it comes to infrastructure and transportation.”
With files from Tom Zytaruk