Events, projects clear winners under new BIA model

29 May 2019

As much as $900,000 will soon be offered to community-minded organisations and groups to activate the CBD and business districts of Hamilton, Mayfield and Wallsend, following a decision of the City of Newcastle’s elected Council last night.

Under a new scheme designed to increase investment in projects to benefit business and improve accountability, Council decided that local business improvement associations (BIAs), which previously received more than $1.3 million annually from a special rate paid by some commercial property owners, will be offered agreements that cap their funding at $100,000.

The Council also voted to ban special rates from being used by BIAs on employees and administration, stipulating that funds should go towards events and projects that activate the business areas.

The Council also agreed to terminate an existing funding agreement with the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce in response to a confidential report from the City of Newcastle CEO regarding breaches of the funding deed.

“I have today written to the Chamber President Nathan Errington outlining to him the significant breaches that provide me grounds to immediately terminate their funding,” Mr Bath said.

“Mr Errington is aware of the numerous allegations that have been put to him and another director over the past few months. It is a decision for him whether he wishes to make these breaches public.”

Council also voted to encourage the formation of a new BIA in the CBD following an independent investigation last year that confirmed Newcastle Now had committed multiple breaches of its funding agreement.

“Newcastle Now received $844,111.80 from ratepayers for the year 2016/17,” Mr Bath noted. “They responded by incurring a wages and salaries bill of $423,000 for a small number of employees.

“Their own profit and loss statement shows that over the course of the full 12 months, they invested just $5,539.88 in the East End on placemaking.

“The Civic precinct received just $11,845 in investment on activities and events, while Newcastle West, which has over the past two years been developing into the City’s new CBD, received just $326.82 on placemaking.

“In a year in which traders in the Mall and along Hunter Street were gearing up for light rail construction and Watt Street and Shortland Esplanade were closed for renewal works, Newcastle Now managed to spend more money on rent than placemaking in the Civic and East and West End precincts.

“Newcastle Now’s loud protests during the past few months has now been exposed as nothing but a distraction from their own shameful spending performance.

“Rather than profusely apologise for their repeated breaches of the funding agreement, they have led a campaign in partnership with the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce against Council’s determination to bring accountability and transparency to special rate funding.

“Events such as Beaumont Street Carnivale will continue. I have no doubt that when a BIA is formed to secure events for Hamilton, that festivals such as Beaumont Street Carnivale will be the No.1 priority to ensure it remains funded.

“I would like to make clear that one BIA held its head high throughout the review of the BIAs. That BIA was Wallsend Town Village, which took the time to understand the review and new funding model.

“Doing this allowed them to understand that under the new model, more money and therefore more events will be available for Wallsend,” Mr Bath said.

Tenders for a new shared resource to manage the administration responsibilities of the BIAs closed Tuesday. A joint Support Officer was a suggestion of the BIAs last November as each organisation is paying consultants to manage identical responsibilities such as preparing business plans and acquittal reports.

Council looks forward to announcing in June the organisation that will ensure the spending of special rates money is transparent and invested in events and projects that promote the business areas of the CBD, Hamilton, Mayfield and Wallsend.