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Newcastle 500 fight just starting, says NERG

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The Newcastle East Residents Group (NERG) is not taking a backwards step in its quest to uproot the Newcastle 500 from its home base.

With another five-year contract up for grabs, following the cessation of the current deal between City of Newcastle (CN), Supercars Australia and Destination NSW, the members of the organisation are prepared to fight tooth and nail to preserve their turf.

And, it appears they’re gaining plenty of support.

More than 300 people attended a public forum at City Hall on Monday night (3 April), hearing from several speakers – including Kath Fielden, Ash Greenaway, Brenton Porter, Rowena Foong, Becky Kiil, Michael Bateman, Alex Spathis, Keven Jackson and Christine Everingham – on a range of impacts plaguing the locals who reside near the racing precinct and business owners whose livelihoods have been severely affected.

Newcastle 500
A packed-out Newcastle City Hall on Monday night. Photo: Rod Thompson

The success of the meeting even caught organiser NERG’s Joan Browning by surprise.

“We were absolutely thrilled with the turnout… and I’m receiving so much positive feedback,” she said.

“I think it’s wonderful.

“To be honest, I was terrified we’d only have about 30 people attend.

“But, to see the venue packed, with a strong cross-section of ages, brought a smile to my face.

“That’s what we found so incredible.

“We’ve been battling this for six or seven years now – and we’re getting old, tired and sick to death of it.

“However, to have all these young people coming in, and showing they, too, are willing to fight for it, is just marvellous.

“They want to join the battle… and we welcome them.”

What has been lost in translation is the fact NERG isn’t against Supercars; it simply doesn’t like where it’s currently situated in the East End.

Almost 60% of the circuit is lined by homes and businesses.

“We’re not totally opposed to the event, like many people believe, just the location of the site,” Ms Browning said.

“All of the speakers actually stood in front of a great big green sign saying: ‘give the region its own racetrack’ or ‘right race, wrong place’.

“It was also included in our final motion, which was carried.

“We want those in the region to put their heads together and begin the necessary discussions, and negotiations, to support the construction of a purpose-built motor racing circuit, open all-year round for events.

“If people need it [Newcastle 500] so badly, build a track, so it’s used all the time, not just three days.”

Monday night’s gathering touched on numerous concerns, 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.

It also revealed that visitors to the Newcastle 500 stayed mainly in the Supercars village, ignoring the local business sector, and attendance figures were based on tickets either purchased or handed out, not of people being scanned at the actual event.

“After such a long time, there isn’t much I haven’t heard,” Ms Browning said.

“But, being told that some businesses lost between $50,000 and $100,000 was news to us (NERG) until recently.

“Ash Greenaway, who has a fashion retail store in Hunter Street, came to one of our committee meetings after the last Newcastle 500.

“I was expecting just the members, however she brought along at least 20 businesspeople.

“That’s when we found out, via her survey, how much they were really losing, the average was approximately $5,000 – nevertheless, it’s still a lot of money.

“Our main worries centred around health and noise impacts.

“And, I thought retired scientist Alex Spathis and qualified energy manager Keven Jackson gave brilliant presentations.

“CN, and Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, always make statements about council being committed to the Paris Climate Agreement but then allow an event like Supercars in our backyard.

“Many would call it hypocritical.

“Sadly, we can’t get any leverage with that information.

“We have battled health, heritage and safety from day one – and they just ignore us.

“Apparently, it’s all at the Minister’s discretion.

“That’s what irritates me about those KPMG surveys at the moment.

“They’re calling it a consultation… however, you cannot have consultation unless there is open information to and from both parties.

“CN, Supercars Australia and the NSW Government have not let anyone know these things.

“I don’t think they’re aware of what transparency means.

“So, we’ve had to delve deep to find out.

“I’ve put in 40 gippers to locate the information we needed to understand how this whole thing works.”

Photo: Newcastle 500 Wrong Place

And, the message to those labelling NERG, and fellow locals, “East End whingers”?

“Honestly, they’ve got no knowledge,” Ms Browning told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Most of them [the critics] don’t live in this precinct, a lot reside outside the area altogether.

“They have been told the Newcastle 500 is great for the city, so they believe it.

“But, there’s no proof to back that claim.

“CN and Supercars Australia won’t release the real figures, it’s frustrating.

“What’s worse is that we’ve got to rely on the economics to try and break it down when we should be relying on health, heritage, safety and environmental statistics.

“However, we can’t access that data.

“This is just the start of the fight.

“We’ll put our submission in and we’re trying to gain access to the new Minister and take something down to him.

“This [battle] isn’t ending here.”

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