NEWCASTLE'S lockouts could be approaching their expiry date, with indications the laws credited with reducing alcohol-fuelled violence in the Hunter could be eased.
NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello is due to visit the city on Wednesday for meetings with stakeholders on the legal framework bars are dealing with in the city.
Mr Dominello said the growth of Honeysuckle and the overhaul of the CBD meant there was "great potential for revitalization of local nightlife".
"In 2008 the government of the day imposed a range of licensing restrictions specific to Newcastle in an effort to curb the escalation in alcohol-fueled trouble in the city," he said.
"Many local residents are rightly proud of what was achieved through the Newcastle solution but 12 years on, in line with the recommendation of the Parliamentary Committee looking at the Night Time Economy, it is the time to look at a review.
Mr Dominello said the rules had gradually expanded from the original 14 venues operating in 2008 to hinder small bars and other traders.
"We will need a joint effort by the government, the council and industry to put in place the right foundations for a thriving and safe night-time economy in Newcastle," he said.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said he had spoken to the minister and the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority extensively about the issues, describing Newcastle's restrictions as the most draconian in the country.
"If you want to set up a small bar you wouldn't be doing it in Newcastle, you'd be doing it in Sydney," he said.
"There's the times bars can open, there's the type of drinks, there's the amount of drinks. There's a lot we can do."
Mr Crakanthorp, who is also chair of the live music taskforce, said a review of liquor laws slated for January could potentially come forward to deal with the existing state of play.
But he said there were also a range of adjustments to rules that sat outside of the lockout legislation itself that could make life easier for traders.
"We want to be a world class city and to do that we'll have a lot of stakeholders putting in submissions and getting their voices heard," Mr Crakanthorp said.
"Personally I think we should be looking at the lockout laws as soon as possible but you've got to work with the community and consult, and bring the community with you.
"That's what today's about, talking to the community."
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said the minister's visit to review the situation with stakeholders was "very encouraging".
"We really appreciate this opportunity to talk to him directly because this is something that's very important to the region," Mr Hawes said.
"He's going to talk to a couple of the operators and the industry groups."
Mr Hawes said the coronavirus situation and the spatial limitations it placed on the hospitality industry had made it more important the rules struck the right balance.
"It certainly exacerbates the problem but the writing was on the wall long before that," he said.
"That whole scene has changed. Before there was a bit of a nightclub focus to those operations and that has definitely changed. Now we're seeing a lot more accommodation and food, winebars and a totally different feel about it.
"We're hoping a decision will be made quickly because the COVID environment makes it even more urgent in our view, to give these guys some more flexibility and opportunity so we don't lose them.".
The minister's visit falls a day after lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes made the case for reducing restrictions for traders as they recover from the pandemic's economic blow.
In her opinion piece published on Tuesday Cr Nelmes said its city taskforce had recently heard "devastating" accounts from the region's hospitality sector.
"In the face of uncertainty, we must do all that we can to assist these vibrant local businesses to not only survive the pandemic, but thrive on the way back to our new normal," Cr Nelmes wrote.
"With this in mind, I propose that it's now a critical time to reconsider the restrictions in place in the Newcastle CBD, and finally change the 2008 lockout laws."
The laws, which became the prototype for Sydney's laws before they were eased earlier this year, arrived in 2008 and have been credited with changing the culture of Newcastle's nightlife.
Police and the medical community have been regular supporters of retaining the measures, while a 2018 Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) review voted to largely leave the rules untouched.
At the time ILGA chairman Philip Crawford said the authority believed there was "a strong case" for maintaining the conditions.while Australian Hotels Association Newcastle/Hunter president Rolly De With said he was disappointed with the decision and argued Newcastle was "no longer the city it was 10 years ago"
Tony Brown, who was instrumental in the rules' 2008 genesis, said that it was a "simple formula" that increased trading hours led to crime increases.
"The Newcastle community is exhausted from our elected representatives' continuing to side with the powerful alcohol and gambling industry whilst neglecting basic community safety and health imperatives," Mr Brown said.
"The lack of support and respect they are showing for our courageous frontline workers battling the covid pandemic, is extremely disappointing."
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