City of Newcastle Budget confirms Newcastle on road to recovery from economic impact of COVID-19

18 Mar 2021

Building on six years of stable and consistent progressive Budgets that have protected services and local jobs while ensuring long-term financial sustainability, City of Newcastle is forecasting a $23.5 million turnaround in its financial performance just 12 months on from the peak of the economic impact caused by COVID-19.

The draft Budget forecasts a $1.2 million surplus over the next year, while still delivering a near record $90.4 million infrastructure program that includes the restoration of the Newcastle Ocean Baths, the revitalisation of the Wallsend Town Centre, a commercial standard organics facility to recycle residential food waste and the continued delivery of the Bathers Way project from Merewether to Nobbys Beach.

Importantly, the accompanying Long Term Financial Plan indicates that the Budget will remain in surplus for the next 10 years at least, allowing the City to continue to support existing services and invest in new and upgraded infrastructure.

The $330 million Budget, which outlines the City’s planned actions for 2021/22, will be tabled at Tuesday’s council meeting, with Councillors voting to place it on public exhibition for community feedback for four weeks from 26 March.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the draft Budget has been carefully balanced to allow the City to continue supporting the community’s recovery from COVID-19 while also providing the services and infrastructure needed to support the economic and population growth of the city.

“During COVID-19, Council made brave decisions to provide financial relief and support for vulnerable groups and business, and to expand existing services, while increasing investment in projects to stimulate the local economy and support jobs,” Cr Nelmes said.

“Those efforts allowed us to deliver a $5.5 million Community Economic and Resilience Package in March last year, weeks before either the NSW or Federal Governments were in a position to respond with support programs and stimulus measures.

“These crucial decisions were only possible due to our strong financial sustainability, a legacy of six consecutive surplus Budgets prior to COVID-19 sending the national economy into recession last March.

“This year, we will spend $330 million in what is a commitment to deliver services and infrastructure that support our city and natural environment as an inclusive and sustainable place to live and work, now and into the future.

“Investment in services across the city is a key priority under the Budget, with $13.7 million for upgrades to local roads, bridges and footpaths and $9.1 million for new and improved parks, playgrounds, sporting and aquatic facilities including the much anticipated Wallsend active hub.

“The City will continue to upgrade local town centres, with $8.1 million marked for projects including the Wallsend CBD and along Orchardtown Road in New Lambton.

“A strong focus on environmental sustainability will see $10.5 million allocated to a range of projects including $2 million for Stockton Beach sand renourishment to protect property and maintain beach amenity, while the NSW Government continues to test the quality of sand mined offshore for the purpose of rebuilding Stockton Beach.”

Other highlights of the 2021/22 budget include:

  • $11 million for waste management, including $8 million for the construction of an organics facility to compost food and green waste to reduce the city’s environmental footprint
  • $7.7 million on stormwater upgrades to address flooding to property and businesses
  • $5 million for transport initiatives including $1.5m on cycleways and $3.1 million on local traffic management and pedestrian safety and access
  • $5 million for initiatives to mitigate economic and social impacts of climate change
  • $4.3 million on strategic projects including $2.4 million on Smart Cities and $1.1 million to improve customer experience
  • $4 million on the Newcastle Ocean Baths Upgrade Project
  • $3.3 million towards the expansion of the Newcastle Art Gallery
  • $2.2 million on Bathers Way
  • $1.5 million for street and park trees to address urban heat island impacts.

The City’s draft 2021/22 Budget delivers on a promise by CEO Jeremy Bath to Councillors this time last year that the City’s financial foundations were strong and that the Budget would return to a small surplus the following year.

Mr Bath said the $23.5 million turnaround in the Council’s financial position has been achieved despite an expectation that COVID-19 will continue to cost it many millions of dollars in lost revenue from the impact on domestic flights from Newcastle Airport, in reduced demand for venue hire at the City Hall, and through the significant reduction in interest rates available to its investments.

“Prudent and progressive economic management and our record of financial sustainability has played a significant role in our recovery from COVID-19,” Mr Bath said.

“A key focus of the 2021/22 Budget is to continue on this path of financial sustainability, deliver the many essential services expected of local government and invest $90.4 million in projects to improve the livelihood and wellbeing of our city.

“We know our city and community is not yet completely out of the woods when it comes to the economic impact of COVID-19. That’s why we have made a conscious decision to push our capital works program as hard as is possible this year and next, knowing that the economic return on our $90 million infrastructure program will be hundreds of local jobs.

“When I commenced with City of Newcastle, I made a promise to myself that we would find the money to restore the Newcastle Ocean Baths. With the support of the Lord Mayor and Councillors, this budget is the first in more than 50 years to allocate significant funding to restoring our iconic baths. Simply, the community has waited long enough.

“Similarly, we have allocated $3.3 million towards early works associated with the expansion of the Newcastle Art Gallery. Again, the Council has unanimously backed the decision to commit ratepayers’ funds to what is the most valuable art collection anywhere in regional Australia.

“We continue to speak with both the NSW and Federal Governments on addressing the $10 million funding gap that exists to allow the Gallery to be expanded over the next two years. This $3.3 million commitment to the early works of the expansion means when that final $10 million grant is secured, we are ready to close the doors and start building.”