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Big crowd voices its disapproval of Newcastle 500 in CBD

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It seems City of Newcastle (CN) has a fight on its hands to keep the Newcastle 500 in town after a big crowd voiced its disapproval of the event on Monday night.

In the wake of another Supercars extravaganza in the CBD last month, which the sporting body claimed attracted 167,197 racegoers, and the possibility of a further five-year contract, the Newcastle East Residents Group (NERG) hosted a packed-out public forum at City Hall to give locals a chance to air their grievances.

And, that they did to raucous applause.

Newcastle 500

The concerns ranged from poor trade figures to health impacts, lack of parking to the length of setting up and packing down, noise issues to CO2 emissions, general day-to-day disruptions to an undesirable experience for retailers.

Many found Supercars Australia difficult to deal with as well.

A survey presented to the assemblage highlighted 98.39% of businesses stated they were affected by the Newcastle 500, with some alarmingly losing between $50,000 and $100,000 during the “bump-out” period.

The overall effect, according to the study, was immense, too, with more than 50% of the respondents citing it “very negative” over the duration of eight-to-10 weeks.

One presenter, Kath Fielden, admitted she moved her Bolton Street practice, Kath Fielden Associates, Family Law, to Adamstown due to the Newcastle 500.

“We endured problems with things like parking and internet over a number of years, which equalled a total of 40 weeks, thanks to Supercars,” she said.

“As a law firm, we shouldn’t be dealing with such difficulties.

“It was hard to get to the office, court cases were impacted, and we had to bring in professional cleaners every year after the Newcastle 500.

“The rent’s the same where we are now, so it wasn’t a financial decision.

“But, it just was not worth staying in the CBD anymore.”

To their credit, Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp, CN councillors John Mackenzie, John Church, Charlotte McCabe, Jennie Barrie and Katrina Walk, along with council’s tourism manager Georgia Lazzari, attended the meeting, although Newcastle federal MP Sharon Claydon, Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen and councillors Deahanna Richardson, Carol Duncan and Peta Winney-Baartz sent apologies.

Ironically, CN charged NERG for staging the gathering at the venue.

After hearing from several speakers – including Ms Fielden, designer Ash Greenaway, architect Brenton Porter, Makers x Traders of Newcastle chair Rowena Foong, Becky Kiil (Newcastle Afoot), long-term resident Michael Bateman, retired scientist Alex Spathis, qualified energy manager Keven Jackson and co-author of Wrong Track: What Drove Supercars to Newcastle Christine Everingham – a motion was put to the audience.

And, following an emphatic “yes”, the NSW Government and CN will be called upon to:

  • Cease hosting the Newcastle 500 through the residential streets and parklands of Newcastle East;
  • Instigate a thorough and independent Performance Audit, conducted by the NSW Auditor General, to be undertaken on the Newcastle 500; and
  • Begin the necessary discussions and negotiations to support a regional purpose-built motor racing circuit, open all-year round for motor sports events

Meanwhile, consultancy firm KPMG conducted the first of four stakeholder workshops as part of a comprehensive consultation strategy developed on behalf of CN to capture views on the event from across the community.

Industry representatives took part in Monday’s in-depth focus group, which took place to understand the perceived benefits and challenges presented by the Newcastle 500. 

Additionally, in-depth workshops will occur with residents on Tuesday and Wednesday, alongside a meeting with local small-to-medium businesses.

The stakeholder consultation follows an extensive online survey, which launched in February and remained open throughout the delivery of the Newcastle 500, attracting more than 10,000 responses before it closed on 31 March.

During this time, KPMG also effected a statistically-significant phone survey to Newcastle residents, while in-person surveys held around the event precinct during the race period were carried out to provide insight into attendees’ behaviours including visitation to local businesses.

Cr Nelmes said CN was committed to capturing views from across the community on the future of the race.

“We’ve now experienced the Newcastle 500 four times, so we are committed to an open and transparent process of consultation to help inform any decisions on this event moving forward,” she stated.

“We’re steadfast in undertaking a robust, open process of consultation through KPMG, who is using a range of online, in-person and telephone surveys before, during and after the race period to gather feedback from a wide a range of people.

“This feedback will allow councillors to better understand the community’s views on issues around liveability, economic benefit or challenges, perceptions of the event and its impact on the visitor economy.”

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