City Taskforce Update 3 July 2020

08 Jul 2020


The City Taskforce, a collaboration of 17 leading organisations and employers, chaired by Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes City of Newcastle, held its fifth meeting today via Zoom. The Taskforce was formed to develop a collaborative approach to the City’s response to COVID-19, from crisis to recovery and beyond. City leaders focused their discussion on the second edition of The Newcastle Response, highlighting significant impacts to the tourism sector, as well as commercial rental vacancies across the city and eroded business confidence in the context of further job losses and economic impacts as a result of COVID-19. 

The Newcastle Response – Tourism Sector 

City leaders endorsed the second Newcastle Response, which provides local insights on one of the industries hardest hit by COVID-19: tourism. Developed in collaboration with representatives of Newcastle Airport and Alloggio, and supported unanimously today by the City Taskforce, the document recognises the valuable contribution the tourism sector makes to the city’s vibrancy and its role in sustaining local jobs. It calls upon State and Federal decision-makers to: 

  • Support an interstate destination marketing campaign for Greater Newcastle, as submitted by Newcastle Airport and partners in June 2020. 
  • List Newcastle as a destination independent of the North Coast on Destination NSW’s websites. 
  • Make available additional tourism product development training from Destination NSW, and pilot new training through the NSW First Program in Newcastle in 2020/21. 
  • Advocate for the reversal of about 200 Hunter Jetstar job losses, including 112 stemming from the closure of Newcastle’s Jetstar maintenance base. 

The Taskforce also recognised the need for JobKeeper to be extended or alternative targeted support measures to be introduced for tourism businesses and other sectors that are “on ice”. Despite some restrictions easing, discretionary spending is down 58% at pubs and venues and 34% on travel compared to baseline levels. Among those travel and accommodation services suffering the biggest downturn are those that derive their revenue from regional, interstate and international travellers due to ongoing border closures. 

Commercial rental vacancies erode business confidence 

The Taskforce heard how commercial rental vacancies across Newcastle had significantly increased from February to June, changing the city’s streetscape and eroding business confidence – an issue not localised to Newcastle, but which can be seen around the world as a result of COVID-19. 

City leaders raised the concept of applying the Renew Newcastle model more broadly to redevelop and revitalise commercial precincts and the city’s overall amenity in parallel with discussions with the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment around zoning and the night-time economy. Leaders agreed to workshop this further with key members of the City Taskforce, including the Hunter Business Chamber, Colliers International, Alloggio and Independent Creative Alliance Newcastle. 

The Newcastle Response – Tourism Sector also advocates for the extension of the Retail and Other Commercial Leases (COVID-19) Regulation 2020. 

City Taskforce work streams update 

City of Newcastle received $4.2 million in applications to its Industry Response Program, offering targeted grants to businesses, groups and organisations representing those industries hardest hit by COVID-19. A funding pool of $500,000 was made available by the City of Newcastle, with the successful applicants from a wide cross-section of the community – including live music, small business, tourism and the arts – to be announced in the coming weeks. 

Engagement with the local evidence base working group continues to provide valuable, granular insights specific to the region, with representatives from the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health, Regional NSW, NIB and the City of Newcastle in the areas of research, innovation and data science. 

The region’s youth unemployment rate remains a concern, affecting more than one in four young people. The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to have a generational impact on this cohort in terms of skills and employment gaps. This City Taskforce work stream has seen the establishment of a working group with representatives of Hunter Young Professionals, Youth Council, Hunter Regional Employment Facilitator, Community Disability Alliance Hunter and the arts and tourism sectors. Together they will look at creative ways of tackling the youth unemployment challenge. 

Vale Matthew Morris, former Charlestown MP 

Taskforce members acknowledged the passing of former State Member for Charlestown, Matthew Morris, who sadly died of brain cancer. Mr Morris, 51, served two terms as the Member for Charlestown, elected in 2003 and again in 2007, and while he was a private person after he left office, his contribution to the community is his legacy. 

Find out more about the City Taskforce - Industry Representation.