NEWCASTLE Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes has had the council’s business improvement association, Newcastle Now, in her sights for some time now.
The first public sign came on March 21 when Cr Nelmes made her displeasure felt during a briefing to the council by Newcastle Now’s chairman, Ed Duc, and its executive manager, Michael Neilson.
Then, at the May 1 council meeting, she unveiled a new policy aimed at helping inner city businesses struggling with the loss of business caused by the light rail disruption, a policy that would be funded from a pool of money ordinarily assigned to Newcastle Now.
Mr Duc said he felt “ambushed” after the March meeting, and Mr Neilson went straight on the offensive in response to last week’s funding threat, describing it as “tokenistic”.
Now, suddenly, Mr Neilson is leaving his job.
He and Mr Duc say the timing is a coincidence, but whatever the situation behind the scenes, the council has a review of its business improvement associations under way, and there may well be major changes to a system funded through more than $1 million a year in levies on top of the standard business rates.
Whatever happens, both Newcastle Now and the council must have a single focus at this time – to do what they can in practical terms to ease the plight of those traders caught between the pincers of light rail construction and the associated building boom that has turned the city into crane central.
The development, of itself, is welcome. The Newcastle Herald has long argued that the city, and the broader Hunter, has a major task on its hands in rebuilding an economic base that has lost its old industrial bulwarks.
But the sheer scale of the work, in relation to the relatively modest size of the CBD, means that the impact has been more profound than many would have hoped would be the case as the city accepted its “short-term pain for long-term gain”.
The council opening its King Street car park for free on Saturdays, as announced on Thursday, is a good move, and the council is to be congratulated for giving up whatever revenue it would otherwise receive.
In the short term, if Revitalising Newcastle wants to ease the minds of disgruntled traders, it could be a bit more specific than saying there’ll be trams testing the tracks this year, and the light rail open early next year.
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