City of Newcastle CEO Jeremy Bath has promised "extensive community engagement" before the council decides whether to host Supercars beyond next year.
A chequered flag potentially looms for the Newcastle 500 after it is held in 2022, now confirmed for March 4-6, as part of the council's agreement with Supercars.
However there is an option for the event to be extended for a further five years.
Newcastle has not hosted Supercars since late 2019 due to the coronavirus and next year's event has shifted from being a season-ending round to a season opener.
It is the only Supercars round in 2022 locked in.
The dates were provided to the Herald shortly before council's meeting on Tuesday night where councillors considered a motion from John Mackenzie (GRN) which called for any changes to the current agreement with Supercars regarding the "timing, staging, access or other aspects" of the 2022 event to "be reviewed and approved by the elected council prior to approval".
The motion passed unanimously but it prompted a debate about whether the elected council needed to approve the switch to March and the ultimate future of Supercars in the city. Cr John Church (IND) argued the elected council originally endorsed the event being held at the season's end.
"The previous council, in some business papers, was quite specific that the approval was given for the final race of the season, not the first of the season," he said.
"Therefore without us coming back to the chamber, I don't think it is right and proper for this council to be entering into an agreement to be holding any other kind of race, next year or any year.
"We need to uphold the previous council resolution or change that resolution democratically."
Council CEO Jeremy Bath responded that the council hadn't "entered into a new agreement with Supercars", to which Cr Church argued staff hadn't "abided by the original intent" of the elected council's "instruction to management" which was "to run the final race of the season".
A motion passed by the council in July, 2016, endorsed "entering into a five year (+ 5 year) Rights Fee Agreement with Destination NSW to conduct the grand finale round" and delegated authority to then interim CEO "to execute any and all necessary documents".
Interim CEO Peter Chrystal then signed in late 2016 a confidential "services deed", which has attracted criticism for locking the council into a subservient role to Supercars in the event's organisation.
An MOU between the council, Supercars and Destination NSW was then signed in April, 2017. Mr Bath said it did not "make any reference" for the event "having to be the last race of the season". "Whether it's the last race or ... the season opener is actually irrelevant to what is the final race of the current contract," he said. "There is an option ... for a further five years and that will ... be a decision for the next council, which will be done with significant community consultation and will undoubtedly be influenced by the success of the next Newcastle 500, which I think is in a much better date."
Mr Bath said Supercars had agreed to not complete any works to prepare for next year's race before February 1, which would result in a set-up period one week shorter than in previous years.
Business Hunter CEO Bob Hawes said on Wednesday that the shorter "bump-in" was a small benefit but the shift to March was a big win for east end traders that had previously raised concerns about losing business in the lead up to Christmas if the event was run in late November or early December.
"This doesn't help everybody but on balance the benefits are worthwhile given how they range across different parts of the region and the economy," he said.
The Newcastle East Residents' Group, which has been a staunch critic of racing on the city's streets and campaigned for greater transparency about the event, does not see much benefit in the change of dates and is concerned about what a shorter "bump-in" could mean. "If they come in late, it means they will be working at night to get it ready," NERG president Joan Browning said.
The event's future may well be influenced by the result of the council election.
Labor councillors, which have had a majority this term, support Supercars as a way of marketing the city in an effort to drive tourism.
Outgoing Liberal Brad Luke expressed his support on Tuesday for the race to continue, saying the city was yet to fully "maximise the benefit" of hosting it.
"These types of events are extremely good events for promoting the area ... they bring in a lot of money," he said. "We just have to work out how to make sure more of that money stays with local operators in a better way."
Cr Nelmes said she "tendered to agree" with Cr Luke, while Cr Mackenzie said he had always and continued to oppose hosting Supercars.
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