NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian says ‘buzzing’ Hunter Street doesn’t need light rail rate relief

Premier says ‘buzzing’ Hunter Street doesn’t need light rail rate relief Gladys Berejiklian in Newcastle on Friday.
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TweetFacebookNewcastle Herald has reported on the woes of many businesses, including Newcastle Coins, Pacific Dreams, Three Bears Kitchen, Frontline Hobbies, Sushi Koo and Newy Burger Co, since light rail work began last year.

A survey by business support group Newcastle Now in February found 55 per cent of respondents had cut staffand 90 per cent had lower turnover.

But Ms Berejiklian insisted the light rail project had enlivened the city.

“Hunter Street was dead, dying, it was gone. Now it’s the exact opposite. It’s full of hope and aspiration,” she said.

“We’re supporting those businesses at this time by making sure we’re communicating with them.

A sign on a doorway in Hunter Street on Friday. Picture: Supplied by Tim Crakanthorp’s office.

“Now, put it this way, after the project’s finished and all the businesses are doing well, we won’t expect anything back from them because that’s our gift to the city.

“If there are any unexpected consequences, of course we’ll engage, but that hasn’t proven to bethe case yet.

“ … We thank them for their patience, but we expect that by October, November we’ll be out of the construction zone, and by that stage the businesses will see so much extra business like they’ve never seen before.”

Newcastle Now executive manager Richard Christian said the almost-completed sections of light rail were a cause for hope, but this should not discount the continuing hardship of traders along the route.

“I wouldn’t say it’s buzzing, no. I think there are areas that aren’t as heavily impacted, but I think to say Hunter Street is buzzing is not entirely the case,” he said.

“I think the sort of money we’re talking about to help these businesses through is not an enormous pot. It’s just enough to get the ones who are on the edge.

“It’s inefficient to just let those businesses fail and then have to move on and new businesses to re-establish themselves.

“Arelatively small amount of money would go a long way to helping some of these businesses that have been here a very long time to just get through.”

The Herald reported on Thursday that Mr Christian had hoped to meet with Ms Berejiklian to seek state government funds for Newcastle Now’s planned funding package to help businesses.

That meeting did not take place, but he said the premier had reached out to him in a phone call and he had not given up hope of bringing the government on board.

Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp said Ms Berejiklian had “backflipped” on her promise to consider rent relief.

“The premier made it abundantly clear that she had not walked down Hunter Street in quite some time when at her press conference she said that business was booming,” he said in a media statement.

“If she had walked mere metres from the university she could have spoken to business owners who haven’t reaped the rewards of her government’s program.The premier’s spin does not align with the shop owner’s experiences on the ground.”

Hunter Street businessman Brett Dann, whose Helloworld Travel head office isopposite a section of completed light rail next to NeWSpace, said the landscaped track looked “fantastic”.

“It’s great compared to what Hunter Street used to be. We’re obviously very excited now that we’ve got the barriers down. I think it looks beautiful,” he said.

Mr Dann opened the office, which has a ground-floor shopfront relying on foot traffic, in September.

“Unlike other businesses, we obviously knew what we were coming into,” he said.

“It’s certainly affected our business, because obviously we expected that precinct to be finished in December [last year].

“I think the overall project is on time, but if you look back to the original guides and notifications, especially for us, we were told that the section to Merewether Street would be open by December 31.

“It was open, but it wasn’t finished, and then obviously it closed again for some time.”

The manager of Brides and Beaux bridal shop, Michelle O’Connor, said the track looked “absolutely fantastic” but the loss of parking on Hunter Street would hurt business, which had suffered during the construction period.

“It’s been difficult to get to us,” she said. “Luckily we are a destination shop, but it’s definitely dropped off.Especially in the last six weeks when it’s been in front of us it’s probably dropped more than half.

“The whole time, of course, but more so when we had the trucks in front.

“We had the university in front and then this and it was like, ‘My god, this is never-ending.’”

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