Transcript: Newcastle NOW Council Briefing 20/03/18
Uncorrected transcript of Newcastle NOW Briefing to the elected council - 20 March 2018
Edward Duc, Chairman Newcastle Now: Thanks very much for this opportunity to talk to Councillors tonight. It came about as a result of a meeting we had with Mr. Bath, talking about a review of the BIAs that's been carried forward. So here we are to give you an update on Newcastle Now. All I'm going to do is talk a little bit about the history. Back in 1989, just after the earthquake, John McNaughton, who was the mayor at the time, set up a committee of council, it was called the Newcastle City Centre Committee. It was agreed that that would be funded by a special benefit rate, by the rate payers in the city. At that time, in fact it was matched dollar for dollar by council. And the effort obviously was to try and bring the city back to a reasonable point.
There were a fair number of iterations the ... at one point council decided one city centre committee was not appropriate, that it was split into six. That dissipated the funds to the point where it was not really seen to be a very useful product. On their own, the City Centre Committee got itself back into an east west and formed one committee again. But then a further change ... I travelled to a few places overseas, in UK, US and Canada and looked at the BIA model that existed there and the huge success that it was having in looking after the cities and engaging the businesses and the people of the cities in what was going on in the city. Council looked at that model and agreed that is one we could put in place. That happened seven years ago. We have a contract with council that goes for another three years and we look forward to enjoying it all. Probably not me, I've been there for too long now. But I would hope that the BIA would be something that would continue for well into the future. So, Michael would you like to ...
Michael Neilson: Thank you Edward. And thank you Lord Mayor and Councillors. I'm aware that some councillors are aware of Newcastle Now and what we do, but I'm equally aware others may not be. So, I'll just give a little bit of history of what we've been up to over the last five years and I'll try to just skim through it. As Edward explained we became an independent BIA approximately five, six years ago. We effectively now oversee four precincts within the CBD, as you can see on the map there, and we have an elected board, an independent board who are apolitical and we very much really try to stick to those ties. We really rely on members wherever we can and we consult with them and engage with them and survey them on a regular basis so that we can ensure that we're basically being a reflection of our members.
We did spend some time about a year and a half ago developing a longer term strategy because we wanted to have a clear focus on what we're doing and a long term vision and we engaged Peter Smith, former CEO of Adelaide City Council and also responsible for Splash Adelaide. We wanted to help him to really sharpen our focus. As a result of that we created what may seem a simple vision, but there's been a lot of thought and debate gone into that. Where we really do strive be a liveable and loved city centre where businesses thrive. Our mission is to support business activity in the city centre. As I said, as a result of this, we've developed a three year plan to give us a bit of long-term thinking but we also as any typical business we hang our 12 month operational plan off that which we acquit to council every 6 months.
We have a really good board actually. We have a representation of businesses across the CBD so we have a mixture of architecture, planning, law, hospitality, retail and marketing. We also engage professional expertise as required and we've established a number of committees. We really pride ourselves on our governance and we have an audit committee, which we've invited an independent auditor to sit on that and we meet once a month. We have a governance committee, so constantly addressing issues as they arise and trying to be on the front foot. We also have a marketing committee made up the board that meet prior to the board meeting.
Some of our current projects ... as I said we do operate ... we are operating under a three year strategic plan, but we're mindful that particularly in the last 12 months the city is evolving and we have to be nimble and agile to be able to adapt to that, those changes. Our current priorities at the moment, first and foremost, our business programme and the businesses have taught us loud and clear that's really all they care about. We've talked a lot about our past initiatives, place making and other projects just purely to focus on getting the businesses through this next 12 to 18 months.
We conducted a forum, where we invited businesses to attend. Where the purpose of that was to allow them the chance to vent and so we can ... we could understand where they're coming from. But, really, beyond that was what we were focused on and conducting surveys so we could really understand what are the issues that they're facing, what are their concerns. We also extended that survey to our broader audience across the CBD, not just within the light rail because we're mindful ... it's not just about light rail, it's about private constructions happening everywhere and it's impacting all of our businesses.
That came out really identified four key issues for us and that our businesses were telling that they need assistance with and that was accessibility, so accessibility to the city. How can people more easily get into the city? But also can how can people get to the businesses? How can ... if you're a business on Hunter Street, how do I get ... how can I attract my customers to there?
Parking as we all know is an issue that's been around forever and a day, and it will continue to be. I'd like to think that Newcastle Now and our board are educated in this topic and we've been working closely with businesses to educate them and understand what parking is about and we've fully supported the strategy that's been endorsed by council and been advocating for a long time to bring on those actions that fall from that. That's why I'm thinking that we certainly are strong on. We're very supportive of the Park and Ride and we've been promoting to all of our businesses and owners to encourage them to use that because we see that as a great opportunity to try and free up some of that on -street parking in the city. Hopefully, once that's at capacity then we can look at other avenues, and I'll take Councillor Church's point where he's already looking at other venues around the city and we'd love to see that happen.
Communication, information and coordination was a big issue that businesses are telling us and that's from the point of view is ... while there are a lot of campaigns happening, Newcastle revitalization ... Revitalising Newcastle are actually conducting a lot of work, the feeling we're getting is it's not penetrating ... people aren't really ... they're glossing over it. That communication is ... we're being told needs to be improved. Information businesses are still saying that they're not getting enough information on what's going on. An example is the closure of the light rail track in December. We'd been involved, heavily involved in a lot of the comms up to that point and then at some point the decision was made that that would be extended and businesses were caught off guard. So they certainly weren't too happy about that. Then the coordination, and that really is in reference to road closures and stakeholders, key stakeholders, within the city better coordinating so that we can reduce the impact on business.
The business support is two fold. That's ... although we did get a lot of feedback about compensation, we're realists and we accept that you can't compare what's happening here to Sydney, because there are some differences. So, we have to treat it separately. But that business support is around support services for business. How can we assist businesses through this period, whether it be through assisting with marketing, helping them to reinvent their model. Depending on the businesses, there's a thousand options that each business can explore. And then financial support, that could be some form of compensation, it could be low interest loans, again we want to keep everything on the table. We've specifically partnered with Hunter Development ... Sorry, Hunter Business Chamber to work on that piece of work, because they do open some doors for us.
After dark economy is another area that we've really identified and we're aware that there is a strategy, that there was a workshop recently and certainly very supportive of that and see that as one half of the business of the city that can can really prosper, so that's something we've been working behind the scenes and Nighttime Safety project and a number of lighting projections around the city. We're very keen to part with council on that strategy and help deliver a number of those projects that hopefully will fold out of that strategy, that long term strategy. A walkable city, that's something we have been advocating for a long time. We believe the city centre can be positioned as a walkable city. It'll address some of those accessibility issues that we're aware of, but it will also position us ... we've got the typography, we've got the climate, we've got the great layout for a walkable city. When I say walkable, I mean cycling as well. That's something our board has identified and ultimately we're working with council on that project as well and we believe a number of our place making initiatives can feed into that strategy.
We really do try to work hand in hand with council, we're mindful that if we go off on a tangent, it's not gonna be good for us, it's not going to be good for the city and wherever possible we strive to do that. Data collection is obviously important so we can actually start to ascertain what is the sentiment of the city and that's changing on a daily basis. Understanding parking, which we know parking ... I hate to say it ... but it isn't as bad a what people are saying and when you start to look at some of the information that we are gathering and comparing some of the vacancies and business surveys compared to previous years is really useful for us as well, and useful for our board.
Collaboration is a big part ... hopefully, I've stressed that point ... that we are a small little humble little organisation and our budget is about $880,000 per annum, we operate with a staff of about four, so we know that on our own we can't do a lot, but the beauty that we do have is very outside the local government act. So we've got the ability to be flexible and nimble and working in hand with council. The Hunter Innovation project is probably the perfect example of that. Many people may not know but that was an initiative that started with Newcastle Now about three years ago. We got approached by a company called [inaudible 00:10:08] Technologies from a group of guys local, local guy who stayed here, based in Palo Alto wanting to trial the technology. It was just too far in for council at the time, Internet of Things, and it just wasn't even palatable at the time. So, they came to us. We supported them and ultimately funded a project in Darby Street. That project became a finalist in the Cisco Internet of Things Challenge in Chicago. At the time, we approached the mayor, the acting mayor, and the CEO and opened that up to them and they jumped on it. Then that effectively got us involved with Cisco. Because council is a big beast, and they weren't in a position to move that quickly, Newcastle Now signed the heads of agreement with Cisco and it was always our intention that would be passed onto council once they had their own backyard in order and they were ready to go and I'm pleased to say that's exactly what's happened.
The Hunter Innovation project, as every knows, was an 18 million dollar project in the city. Newcastle Now has committed $200,000 of that, specifically to the Wi-Fi component. We've also committed $100,000 to smart lighting modules to be rolled out soon. Innovation UK system, that's a little bit beyond the city, it's all about the Hunter regional ecosystem. The reason why we're involved in that is the city centre is the heart of any Hunter ecosystem, so we believe that we have to be in there advocating for that and making sure the city is the pulse. I'll speed up a bit now.
Other collaboration projects that we've been involved with is 360 Degrees, you're probably all aware of the city marketing initiative which is a virtual reality project which is moved around, around outside of Newcastle and then shared on social media. That was a great partnership with council, the Business Centre, Enigma and HDC. The walkability, as I said it stretches a little bit beyond walking, we invited Jan Gehl, a renowned urban architect to the city about two years ago, and that was all about getting people to think about, okay, what can the city be. It doesn't have to be a bland environment and that was fantastic to get ... to help us start shifting that thinking. Recently we partnered with council to bring Rodney Tully to visit Newcastle on the walkability.
Sign Improvement programme a few years ago, we were involved in a partnership with council where we co-funded 50/50 if a business wanted to improve their shop façade, which was very successful. And we also co-funded the Newcastle city council parking study to realise more parking where we invested $50,000 into that, basically to understand what's happening with parking. I think that information was invaluable to help create the study, the strategy.
We also work hard to try and obtain internal, external income both in cash and in kind, and we really try to leverage our ability to do that. Last year alone we obtained close to $700,000 in external funding, that including a Nobbys project, Nobbys redevelopment, Nighttime Spaces grant, interpretation planning up at Nobbys, a 360 Degree Reasons programme, we contributed funds to the HIT grant and we also [inaudible 00:13:00] the Tip Jar, which is a music event for the CBD.
Nobbys lighthouse, I'm sure you're probably aware of our involvement in that, and hopefully you'll get a little bit more information soon, we're very close to submitting a DA for that site. This has been probably a four year, five year project in the making. Started with us just simply opening up the space, it was closed, we felt it should be open to the community. We see this as a bit of a magnet to pull people through to the city up to an iconic site. That led to use being able to restore the cottages, so engaged Corrective Services and Work for the Dole providers to help do that work. We got about $300,000 pro bono work on that, so to bring them back to their original state.
We fought, or we advocated, that the Nobbys lighthouse not be included in the lease of the port and were successful in that. Had a meeting with Duncan Gay which was the catalyst, and then as a result of that we've now secured a long term lease for the site. We've secured half a million dollars, we've got the architectural plans, our DO I think we have presented to council now and we're very close to submitting the DA to that site. So the planning is there that it'll be open to the community seven days a week and we'll be setting up a separate entity to manage it, non-profit, any funds that are made go back into maintaining the site, any surplus will go back into Newcastle Now and then out in projects near the city. So it's a fairly exciting role and it's part of our sustainability as well, utilising an amazing space that may not have been utilised.
Nighttime Spaces I've touched on, this is another great collaborative project where we've identified seven sites in partnership with council, the Hamilton Chamber and HDC, and this is all about identifying zones that may not be desirable in the evening that we can try and activate and try to encourage people to make them safe. So we're working on rolling those out, and we should see some action in the next six months, but the last project we expect to be completed by 2019.
A number of projects that we have been involved, you may or may not aware of, AA Park, Rose Park Gardens, the Headphones in Darby Street, the little pillar people that you see around the city, they're telecommunications boxes we engage artists to do that, Santa's Sleigh, Laneway projects, Darby Street Community Garden, we're responsible for that. We worked closely with the fashion and bridal sector to help promote them and support them, Burwood Park, a number of lighting initiatives, and previously when graffiti was an issue we were heavily involved in subsidising a graffiti team to address that, but thankfully, touch wood, it's not such an issue at the moment.
Creative industries, this is something we've identified a long time ago as a real opportunity for Newcastle and I'm please to say it was identified in the IF report to say that Creative industries and events manufacturing are two strengths within the region and we fully support that. We believe that there's been a strong creative undercurrent for a long time in this city and we want to build on that but we also want to create jobs and the creative industries is a big sector that can do that. We've supported that through ... we've supported Renew from day one, we continue to do that and also other projects, their Artist Festival is one that's a bit dear to our heart, we got Rosemary Milson, we were the co-founder of that and we supported it for three years with a clear plan that you need to be sustainable within three years because our funding won't go beyond that, and it was a classic textbook scenario, so we don't fund it now, it's just sustained now by what you guys do, but it's a great example of supporting your creative industries and bringing a different sector to the city.
Events, we're also heavily involved in events, we know they are quite costly and time consuming so we'll probably steer away from them now give what it takes but we have regularly supported food festivals, markets, we helped established the hunt and gather markets on top of town, surf fests and we're working with Mark Warren Smith at the moment to try and hopefully bring surfers back to Newcastle at some point. Film festivals, we're involved with Graham Boyd, who's Super Moto GP, and we previously did have an arrangement with Honeysuckle where we ran Winter Heat, but we don't have that anymore. Honeysuckle now look after themselves.
Just city centre engagement, we've been running our ambassador programme for over a decade and it's a very valuable project, we have about 15 city centre ambassadors that get out there amongst the street, meet and greet, they also conduct our surveys, they're a presence for visitors, particularly cruise ship visitors, we open our Nobbys every Sunday, we have monthly precinct meetings where we encourage businesses to come along, we have business-to-business forums and we also promote heavily through social media and newsletters and we create maps, physical maps, as well to share for visitors.
So that's a bit of a snapshot on what we do, I hope that it may clarify if you had any questions. We really are passionate about what we do and we think that there is a genuine need for an independent business group in there, but most importantly needs to work closely with council and other stakeholders and I think that's what we try to do.
Nuatali Nelmes: Thank you very much for your presentation, I'll open it up to any questions from Councillors. Councillor Church?
John Church: Thank you Lord Mayor and thank you to Michael and Edward for your excellent presentation. I'm particularly excited about what you've been able to achieve so far at the Nobbys headland, against all opposition of the past. Can you give us an idea of what your perfect timeline would be for that project?
Michael Neilson: Yeah, we have a project plan, so we're hoping to launch the DA in March, but possibly could go into early April. We've allowed about nine months for that DA process to be approved, we do have to acquit on of our grants by mid next year, sorry, September. So we've broken the project into stages, we've also ... total cost of the project is about 1.5 million and we're constantly chasing grants for the remainder. We've got a couple of grants in at the moment with the federal levels that we're quietly optimistic about, so the funding source will help determine the completion of the project, but we're aiming for about that two year mark that it will be completed, about a year, 18 months it'll be open to the public.
John Church: Thank you Councillor. Councillor Dunn?
Jason Dunn: Thank you Lord Mayor. You mentioned that you had ... your revenue was about $880,000, I'll tell you that's the last financial year to be consistent. How much of that revenue, roughly, would be spent on employees and associated costs?
Michael Neilson: I can tell you exactly. So we aim, as I spoke about earlier, we have an audit committee and that's one of the key things, having worked in local government oversaw town centre programmes in the past, I'm very mindful that a large percentage is gone on to wages, so we aim for about 41% of our total revenue on wages, which is about ... a pretty good benchmark. It's hard to benchmark because there's not many other like organisations, but we do look at overseas and beyond and that's about a typical figure. We have equivalent to four full-time staff.
Nuatali Nelmes: So I think your annual statements say something about, is it $425,000 on staff?
Michael Neilson: So we get ... it's a bit less than that. What year are you talking about?
Nuatali Nelmes: Last year?
Michael Neilson: And that's actually including, that takes into accounts grants and external income as well, so that 400 of the IA funding is more than 40%, but when you take into account that external income, it's around that 41%.
Nuatali Nelmes: So it's not $425,000?
Michael Neilson: I'd have to say it's a lot less at the moment, because we're constantly reviewing it and adjusting it, so I'd just have to compare what year that was.
Edward Duc: Just like to add to that, I think we have in administration two and a half people, so the other people who are in the office actually run the programmes. So they run the B2Bs, there are people that go around and talk to our stakeholders, see what their problems are and these programmes that we run we need people to run them, it's as simple as that. At the moment though, what we're looking at doing is because we've had though a bit of contraction in staff, for various reasons, we're looking at outsourcing some of that work, to people who are really efficient at this sort of activity. So, I guess the point I'm making, you would probably have to take about half that number and apply it to the programmes that we're doing.
Nuatali Nelmes: Sorry, so the $425,000 for staff, out of the $880,000, half of that is for staff, or isn't for staff? Or specifically for paying staff to run programmes.
Edward Duc: What I'm saying is half of that $400,000, $200,000 for example, would be used to run the programmes.
Nuatali Nelmes: Pay the staff?
Edward Duc: Pay the staff, yes.
Nuatali Nelmes: To run which programmes was it?
Michael Neilson: Many of the programmes that we've just outlined in the presentation.
Nuatali Nelmes: All of those programmes, or just some of them?
Michael Neilson: All of them, so everything that we do is managed by our staff. We do utilise volunteers, so our ambassador programmes where we can, we get a lot of board input, we do rely on some in kind, but effectively you need staff to manage those projects. If we rely too much, and we did go through a phase where we were getting our precinct groups to deliver projects and we found that it was just too difficult because they would be enthused for a period then they would get pulled back into the business, which is fair enough, and the projects weren't being completed. So our staff are there to oversee that.
Nuatali Nelmes: So you have an EFT of four?
Michael Neilson: Yeah.
Nuatali Nelmes: Or you have four?
Michael Neilson: So it would be equivalent to four full time employees.
Edward Duc: If I can just add to that, I mean one of the people, she's here tonight, spends about half her time writing up for the grants. So we've achieved, last year, close to three quarters of a million?
Michael Neilson: $700,000.
Edward Duc: $700,000 in grant, and the reason that we can do that is because we have the structure to do it. Council, I understand, can't actually get involved in that grant area that we're in, that space, so again, some of the wages that are spent generate $700,000 worth of grants.
Michael Neilson: So for example, Lord Mayor, that $700,000 in addition to the $800,000, last year $1.5m, sat wages around about that $400,000, that's how we work out our percentages.
Nuatali Nelmes: So the $720,000 in grant income, could you break that down. Like what grants you got and what projects it's for?
Michael Neilson: So last year, the Nobbys-
Nuatali Nelmes: The last 12 months, yeah.
Michael Neilson: Yeah, the Nobbys redevelopment, so through the Port Contribution fund, we've Nighttime Spaces, $175,000. The interpretation-
Nuatali Nelmes: The Nobbys cottage is, sorry, is the Port Contribution fund?
Michael Neilson: Yes, that's correct.
Nuatali Nelmes: So is that one administered by Department of Planning?
Michael Neilson: HDC, yeah. The interpretation, the 360 Reasons, the Tip Jar, but we also in addition to that last year, we also ... we were one of four partners in the HIP project. We haven't counted that obviously, but that was a $10 million grant contribution.
Nuatali Nelmes: So the $250,000 came from the Port fund and the $500,000 came from?
Michael Neilson: No, the $500,000 came from the Port fund, the $250,000 is in kind contribution.
Nuatali Nelmes: In kind from?
Michael Neilson: Various agencies, so Work for the Dole providers, Corrective Services. What we do try to do is we try to measure any in kind hours that we do get. It's difficult to put a dollar value to it, but we found them as we think it's necessary.
Nuatali Nelmes: So the Port fund gave you $500,000 to do up Nobbys. Nighttime Spaces $175,000, where did that come from?
Michael Neilson: That's a state fund.
Nuatali Nelmes: Which fund?
Michael Neilson: Nighttime Safety.
Nuatali Nelmes: And the signage at Nobbys, the $39,000?
Michael Neilson: That's interpretive, so that's part of the Nobbys exhibition space, so that's interpretive space there that we've received as well, so separate to the $500,000, separate grant.
Nuatali Nelmes: Who from though?
Michael Neilson: A state body as well. Heritage.
Nuatali Nelmes: And the $45,000?
Michael Neilson: That was state as well? Tourism.
Nuatali Nelmes: NSW or Tourism Australia or?
Michael Neilson: New South Wales.
Nuatali Nelmes: And the $10,000 for Tip Jar?
Allan Robinson: [inaudible 00:25:20] we're tracking in [inaudible 00:25:23] whatever you spend-
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor Robinson?
Allan Robinson: [crosstalk 00:25:25] you're justifying by what you're receiving-
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor Robinson?
Allan Robinson: Again, I ask the question-
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor Robinson, you don't have the call-
Allan Robinson: [crosstalk 00:25:31]
Nuatali Nelmes: I'm going to have to ask you to leave if you keep doing it.
Allan Robinson: [crosstalk 00:25:33]
Nuatali Nelmes: I think it's fair, they've come here to tell us when they're spending it for, I think it's fair enough to know.
Allan Robinson: [crosstalk 00:25:38]
Michael Neilson: I must admit, I didn't come with the level of details, if I had've known I certainly could have prepared for that, but-
Nuatali Nelmes: Sorry, before we got interrupted by Councillor Robinson, the $10,000 was from?
Michael Neilson: That was from council, I think.
Nuatali Nelmes: Right, so that was us funding-
Michael Neilson: [inaudible 00:25:51] the Tip Jar.
Nuatali Nelmes: All right. So a lot of the project you're doing are focused on place making. The Nobbys project, which is obviously very worthwhile for the city, funded obviously by the Port Contribution, which I think is a good use of that funding. With your mission statement at the start around economic development, how do you see the projects that are being funded and that matching with the business statement of the BIA around economic development and advocacy for the businesses? Because there's a lot of project work going on-
Michael Neilson: There is.
Nuatali Nelmes: -that's obviously valuable and in place making, but there's also an advocacy role on behalf of all the small businesses in the city centre to balance at the same time.
Michael Neilson: Exactly, and we've gone through a transition over the last five years. Five years ago there wasn't anything happening in this city, so the board made a decision that we needed to get in, get dirty and get things happening and we did that through, place making was the appropriate tool at the time, the façade improvement programme. It was all about just building confidence because there wasn't any confidence in the city, and it was about getting businesses being proud of themselves.
So, at that time that was appropriate, but as the city evolved, so did we evolve, where we started to identify this is about jobs now, we need to find jobs for the future, which is why we invested heavily in the Hunter infrastructure innovation project, Hunter Innovation project, which is about creating new jobs, as you're well aware. It's about getting infrastructure and then we'll see a lot of benefits from that to come, things like the nighttime economy, again our board has identified that as one half of the city, so our nighttime economy is not doing well, but we see great opportunities for that. So not only is that supporting our existing businesses, it's about attracting new jobs and opportunities in that space as well. So we are continually-
Nuatali Nelmes: When you say not doing well, what context do you mean? Because it's the sixth largest nighttime economy in the country.
Michael Neilson: Yeah, but it could be so much better. And I think we all recognise that, I think there's an opportunity there that we can, as we all know, move away from the boozy culture and encourage restaurants to open longer, attract families into the city for longer periods.
Nuatali Nelmes: I'm well aware, because council has a draft strategy in the nighttime economy, so where is the difference between council and ... so our offices are doing a lot of work in that space, and have done for a long time, where do you see Newcastle Now's role in that space, because it seems like some overlapping areas, which is great, but if council has already employed staff to do all that work, what is your ... is it advocacy work or is it funding for projects or-
Michael Neilson: It's a bit of all of it. So our four key pillars in our strategic plan, I'm happy to provide you a copy Lord Mayor, it's advocacy, it's business support, it's governance and it's financial sustainability, so that's what our independent board has identified as the key areas. We recognise that we are independent but we need to work closely with council because council sets the strategy. So, as I made the point earlier, we're outside the local government act, and having worked inside and outside the local government act, I can assure you there's huge benefit in us being able to operate and be nimble and be able to adjust to circumstances in an appropriate manner, at the same time working closely with council, and that's where the benefit comes.
We work with your offices on a daily basis, and I think if you speak to some of those officers they'll see the value that we do provide. They come to us a lot, we go to them a lot, it's a shared responsibility that works well. To be honest, I don't think that council could provide the value that we've been able to provide, there's a lot of grants that council could not apply for that we have the ability that we can apply for, there's a lot of that funding that council could not have applied for, so I think it's a case of working hand in hand to get the best outcome for the city.
Nuatali Nelmes: So maybe you could outline which grants we weren't eligible for, because I-
Michael Neilson: So the Nighttime Spaces, for example, Newcastle Now applied because council wasn't eligible to apply, so we provided ... council provided a lot of the data for us to be able to put the business case forward and it worked hand in hand.
Nuatali Nelmes: The grants that you outlined for the $700,000 I think council can actually apply for some of those grants, and have done, and have been successful in different projects, but that's fine, that's great. In your four pillars, which I have read the strategy, so thank you, but we can talk about it again, the advocacy work, the Revitalising Newcastle project you mentioned a couple of times, you haven't been happy with HDC or Revitalising Newcastle the way they're rolling out that project in the city centre on behalf of local businesses. What, in terms of advocacy and promotion of trading in the inner city and the like, what did Newcastle Now implement, knowing that that project was coming. Did you have a marketing strategy for-
Michael Neilson: Yep. And just to make the point, I didn't say I wasn't happy with Revitalising Newcastle, that was the feedback we were getting from the businesses, the city centre businesses.
Edward Duc: You were quoted as saying that council should do more. But that didn't come from us.
Nuatali Nelmes: I believe that we just need to have your microphone on.
Edward Duc: Okay. There was some discussion about the fact that Michael was reported in the newspaper as saying that council could do more, in terms of the revitalization programme. However, what he was doing was reporting on the meeting we had with the stakeholders, where things got a lot a little bit hectic. So he was saying one of the things that was expressed at the meeting was that council could do more. So it's not his view, not my view, their view.
Nuatali Nelmes: I'm not sure about that, I'm don't think I'm aware of those comments. I was more asking about the comments around businesses not being happy with Revitalising Newcastle's communication and the light rail project is not a secret or a surprise to the city, being the peak advocacy group for businesses in the inner city with a budget to do so and be nimble and advocate, as you've mentioned, all the things you've mentioned, what did you implement on behalf of those businesses to keep ... open campaign, open for business campaign, I know there was some work done, but maybe could elaborate the total budget and the campaign and what you're doing maybe at the moment for that?
Michael Neilson: Yep so, I'm happy to provide financials, I won't have all of that on hand, but we have been working closely with all the stakeholders. One thing we identified was that there was a lot of players now in the space, so it would have been pointless for us to go out there and run separate campaigns, so we worked closely with Revitalising Newcastle and transport, so we're very key in their communications group along the way, and fed that information to our businesses.
We produced and handed out hard copy maps, where to park, we ran a shop in the city programme where we had $10,000 prizes for people to come ad shop in the city, we worked closely with each of the precincts to develop local campaigns to attract people into those ares, so we've been very, working very hard to do that. As I said, we're a small organisation, we can't do the impossible, where Revitalising Newcastle have multi-million dollar budgets, we can't possibly compete with them. We do a lot with a small amount of money.
Nuatali Nelmes: So how much was that campaign that you ran?
Michael Neilson: I don't have that on me but I'm happy to provide the details on that.
Nuatali Nelmes: Are you partnering with them on their Newie Passport campaign at the moment?
Michael Neilson: No, we're not.
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor Rufo?
Andrea Rufo: Thank you Lord Mayor, I simply wanted to thank both Edward and Michael for your presentation tonight and congratulate you on the work that you've done and continue to do for the city. Just keep going.
Edward Duc: Thank you.
Andrea Rufo: Thank you.
Michael Neilson: Thank you Councillor.
Edward Duc: There's just one thing I'd like to add, and that is-
Nuatali Nelmes: Just one moment, I've got a question for the Councillor-
Edward Duc: I'm sorry.
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor White?
Emma White: Yes Lord Mayor. I've got a couple, so I'll try to get them together. One of the things you touched on in your presentation was around the Smart Cities, and your, I guess if I call it early uptake investment. So with the Smart Cities strategy, did Newcastle BIA make a submission on that strategy and what was your position, if you like, on that?
Michael Neilson: So, as I pointed out we were one of the early adopters of this ... supporters of Internet of Things, so the Darby Street trial. We signed the heads of agreement with Cisco at the time to get a discussion happening, we worked closely with the Smart Cities coordinator Nathaniel Bavinton, and he actually regularly briefs our board and we provide input into that document. A big part of our focus was on the Hunter Innovation project, which as you'd be aware, was about laying infrastructure. So we were very supportive of the Smart Cities strategy, we continue to be supportive of it and we'll tap in and out as required.
For example, we'll soon be contributing $200,000 towards the Wi-Fi, we'll be working closely with businesses, the council offices are preparing a business case for that where we hope that we can provide, as part of that $200,000 contribution, a cheaper internet service for our businesses that can tap in the back of the network that's being rolled out through the HIP project.
Emma White: So is that part of a submission, or just in terms of your daily [crosstalk 00:35:03]
Michael Neilson: That's day to day activities.
Emma White: And you mentioned a couple of times that you do a number or surveys. Is that data publicly available, is it only data that you use, is it data that is publicly available to your members or-
Michael Neilson: It's data that we use to help gauge the thinking of our businesses, so it would certainly be a board decision. If they were prepared to release that information it's ... we certainly have privacy laws when we collect information, so it's not for me to say who can have access to that, but at the moment it is private information. But it's ... certainly we use that information to be able to gauge the feeling, as I said we conduct regular sentiment surveys, we've equipped our ambassadors with iPads so they can go out there and conduct a survey straight right away and get the analytics behind the background to see where the trends are and what the patterns are.
Emma White: So is that data that your members get or is that only for your board?
Michael Neilson: It's for our board.
Emma White: For the board, okay.
Michael Neilson: We did conduct a survey on the back of the business forum, which we have shared that and that was pretty much the feedback where we've identified those four key areas that the businesses are saying they need support in.
Emma White: So in the general surveys, is there a mechanism to feed that data more generically back to members?
Michael Neilson: Yeah definitely, there definitely is. We do communicate with our members on a regular basis, so not necessarily sharing the data results, but our initiatives as a result of the data that's been received. It helps to inform a lot of the decision making.
Emma White: Now this just is ... flowing on a little bit from that. With any of the submissions or advocacy that you've done with government or different organisations like HDC or whatever it might be, do you use any of that data to back up those submissions, or because it's only available to the board it's not data that you can use or-
Michael Neilson: Yes we do. We make informed decisions, our boards make informed decisions all the time, so we wouldn't make a submission without giving it considerable thought and support information.
Emma White: Would it ... and I'm not sure if it's something we can ask for or not, but would it be possible to have some of that more broad generic data for those surveys that you've done in the last 12 months? Obviously not if the surveys are small then you can't use them because it might then identify somebody, I understand those kinds of aspects but, you would do an overall report, would that be possible for us to see? Those reports?
Michael Neilson: Our reports to our board? Our board's an independent board, so I'm sure if council wrote to our board and ... they could consider that.
Edward Duc: We can give broad generic results.
Nuatali Nelmes: Thank you Councillor. Councillor Luke?
Brad Luke: Thank you, thank you very much for coming and doing the presentation, I know you guys do a lot of work. Just to clarify one part, because I think you were talking about there with some of your surveys, they're actually of the, of your members-
Michael Neilson: That's correct.
Brad Luke: Your business members. And your board is elected by the people who are actually paying the special rate that you receive as well. So the members through those surveys and also through the election of board members could actually get a fairly good opportunity to let you know how you're performing, would that be correct?
Emma White: Sorry, if I may, Lord Mayor? Sorry Councillor, I was referring to when Michael was talking about that the ambassadors undertake survey of visitors, particularly around the cruise ship arrivals, so yeah obviously you're doing your own internal surveys around your members, it was that public data, the tourism data, the participation data, so apologies, that wasn't ... I wasn't clear.
Michael Neilson: Yeah, and we do share that, we actually have a council officer attend all of our board meetings, so we are in contact with council officers, myself nearly on a daily basis, and we share information freely, so a lot of that is shared informally, but not necessarily tabled in a formal manner.
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor Winney-Baartz?
P Winney-Baartz: Thank you for your presentation. Somewhere along there there was a bit of a comment about compensation for business in town and, please bear with me I'm newly elected, I'm still trying to get my head around all the issues, but from what I understand there's a process available for businesses to request compensation now from the state government, and can you outline for us how you're helping the businesses in town to do that? Thank you.
Michael Neilson: Thank you for that question. So part of our business working group we've identified, or the businesses have told us, that they're for the area. So compensation is obviously a topical issue, and it's an area that businesses are very mindful of, particularly with what's happened in George Street. We invited the Office of Small Business Commissioner and we're working closely with him, they made it clear with comparing Newcastle with George Street is chalk and cheese and we shouldn't do that, and we are mindful of not providing false hope to businesses by encouraging that thinking of compensation, but we would not be doing our role if we didn't explore every option, and that's what we're doing.
So in partnership with the Business Chamber, we're looking at all those options. So George Street was compensation based on the time delays. There's no time delay in this project, so that's not an option, but there has been a number of suggestions about low interest loans, disaster relief concepts that may be able to be applied, so we want to look at all of those and develop a business case and give it some thought before we do take it to the government. But it's fair to say they're all on the table until we can discount them.
P Winney-Baartz: Thank you, sorry, and just one other quick one. So give the other issue that I am obviously dealing with on a daily basis is around parking in the CBD, and that your very consistent advocacy for parking I'm aware of, so can you tell us how ... whether you've taken steps and what you've done to promote our Park and Ride in and around as well.
Michael Neilson: So were constantly promoting the Park and Ride, so our position is that based on the information, the studies that we co-funded with the council, is that there are parks out there and the biggest issue is the workers taking the park. So if we can find long term solutions for those workers that will free up on the on-street parking. So we have been promoting the Park and Ride, and our goal is that they get to capacity. Believe it or not it's hard to penetrate businesses. We are knocking that door, we are making it very clear the businesses need to encourage their workers not to park. They need to jump on the Park and Ride, and hopefully if we can get that to capacity we might be able to explore another one, but ultimately is part of the strategy. We would love to see a long term parking station somewhere for workers, but that's a time down the track. We need to demonstrate that they are using the process first.
Also we're very supportive of paid parking in the city, we know it helps to regulate parking, but we believe the rates need to be right and it needs to be slight and then increased to discourage people to stay there. So we're very supportive of the strategy that's been endorsed by council and we are slowly educating our businesses on that. A few years ago you'll recall there was an introduction of free parking and it was a disaster and we keep reminding businesses that that's not the answer and even we're starting to see Darby Street, we starting to see even Hamilton, working with them they're starting to understand that pay parking does work.
Nuatali Nelmes: Are there any other questions? Councillor Dunn?
Jason Dunn: Thanks Lord Mayor. Just going back to the grants that are considered significant grant income coming in the last financial year, but does Newcastle Now also apply for any ... will make any tender applications of any significance during the year?
Michael Neilson: Sorry, what do you mean by tender?
Jason Dunn: Tenders, for example, say Newcastle Station, that sort of thing.
Michael Neilson: Yeah, as part of our strategic plan, one of our pillars is financial sustainability and what we mean by that, it's about ... we would love to get to the point where we're not relying on the rate, where we can be self-sustainable through income such as Nobbys where the money goes back into our businesses and we don't need to draw a rate. The board made that decision a few years ago and that's been part of the charter. So Nobbys is the start of that. The station came up and it was a good fit for what we're about and what we're activation, so we did put in a very attractive bid, in my mind, but were unsuccessful unfortunately. But that was about activating the space, it was about getting a return, and ultimately we would have liked to have managed that site long term, under an arms-length entity.
Jason Dunn: Do you have any idea roughly what your bid for that project would have been?
Michael Neilson: Yeah, I can tell you exactly. Part of our ... it was cost neutral, so the grant, the proposal was over 18 months, so it's not a long term use of the site. Ours was based on 18 months where we would invest in some improvements to the site, we would provide an outdoor cinema screen that would be recouped over the 18 months to Newcastle Now so, it would basically be cost neutral. So 150K over 18 months, that would be completely recouped.
Jason Dunn: That's to ... if you had've been successful with the ... that wasn't your cost in applying for the tender?
Michael Neilson: No, that was what we were proposing if we were successful.
Jason Dunn: What would your costs would have been, roughly, in actually making that application, putting that together?
Michael Neilson: We put a detailed business plan together, so we used an independent company DKF Crosbie, and I think it was probably about $4,000.
Jason Dunn: Thanks for that. Just one final one. You mentioned there's a council officer on the board, is that an actual board position or are they just there as an attendee at the meetings?
Michael Neilson: Yeah, there's not actually on the board, they're there as a guest and they get invited to every board meeting.
Jason Dunn: I think it's part of the charter.
Michael Neilson: The council funding [inaudible 00:45:10].
Jason Dunn: Do you know, who is that?
Michael Neilson: It's either Greg Fenwick or Tim Askew, so one of them two are always there.
Jason Dunn: Okay, thanks for that.
Nuatali Nelmes: Is there any other questions. Councillor Winney-Baartz?
P Winney-Baartz: Sorry, I do have one other question. Talking to some people who were recently at a small business forum that you ran, and that you guys committed to providing a business support strategy, and that you were going to form a working group, can you update us on what that strategy is and who is on the working group and how many times you've met and all that kind of stuff please?
Michael Neilson: Yep, so that's the Business Support programme there we touched on, so we've been working closely on a number of initiatives just under Newcastle Now's banner. So the communication, we've been working on a communication plan to try to attract people from outside the CBD to the city centre, that's under way. We've been working with the business centre, Newcastle Business Centre and the Office of Small Business, to evolve their Connect project, which is the business support. We're actually meeting on Thursday, the 22nd, with a representation of Hunter Business Chamber, representatives of each of the precincts, the Hunter ... the Newcastle Business Centre, the Small Business Commission, I think I've included everybody, to identify key strategies.
We then intend to, once we've got a good handle on where we're going with that, well then be working with council, talking to council about how we can progress some of those strategies and also with Revitalising Newcastle. Initially we did talk about including council and Revitalising Newcastle and transport on that group, but we felt that it's probably appropriate that we keep them at bay whilst we work through some of the detail. We didn't think it was a great use of resources by bringing them to that, so that's the next stage once we've got some strategies in place.
Nuatali Nelmes: So just ... sorry, are your questions finished Councillor? Yeah. Just to go back onto that last point, so two months ago you held the forum with the Small Business Commissioner around support for businesses during the light rail construction, so is this the first meeting? Two months later?
Michael Neilson: This'll be the first group of stakeholders. There's been lots of individual meetings with each of the groups, and pulling them together and working on a number of the strategies from Newcastle Now's point of view, but this is the first time the group is coming together.
Nuatali Nelmes: But the group doesn't include HDC or council?
Michael Neilson: No, not HDC and sorry, Revitalising Newcastle, and not council at this stage. But council, once we've got some strategies, that's when we'll be involving council.
Nuatali Nelmes: And this is around the light rail construction issue?
Michael Neilson: This is around those four key point there that I've just highlighted there, the accessibility, the parking ... for example, parking's obviously ... sits with council, so once we've got an idea of where the businesses are at, and we'll be leading some of that discussion because we already know where that could go both long term and short term. So then we'll be coming back to council to talk further about that. The accessibility for example, that could be how can we better direct people to come into the city, so that might be us developing further maps to encourage people to come around the Eastern side into the CBD instead of through King Street, it might be.
I'm working more closely with Revitalising Newcastle with their directional signs. So until we get a sharper focus, we will then be in the position to determine who the appropriate stakeholder is. We just, we certainly don't want to waste people's time and we know that businesses are still feeling very frustrated or oscillated, so we want to work through some of those issues with them as well.
Nuatali Nelmes: Yeah no, I'm aware of some of that sentiment that exists. My concern is genuine, in that this project that's happening in the city centre is not a surprise and that this seems to be like a reactive response, not a planned response from the peak agency for the businesses in the CBD. This construction's been underway for a number of months and even at this first meeting, two months after the initial forum, council, Revitalising Newcastle aren't involved, by the time those processes go through, we'll be starting to go towards the end stages of construction. So, the support that those businesses needed from groups like Newcastle Now, is happening right at this very point at time.
Because they talk to me about Newcastle Now and what's going on in the city centre, and it's not ... it isn't a surprise to Newcastle Now or a lot of people that construction was on it's way in the CBD. So I just, I had genuine concerns about this being a little bit too late in terms of the organised advocacy work for those businesses. Particularly given that the meeting, one of the key actions of that meeting that was held was to form a working group, and that was two months ago. So I'm not really sure, I know your ... it more about you're achieving your priorities, but there is some pretty pointy issues for small businesses and businesses in general in the CBD to be able to manage their concerns during this construction phase, particularly for ... in and around the light rail project, because there are a number of associated intersections on other streets that are also going to be affected.
I mean council moved pretty promptly to set up a Park and Ride after talking to businesses and Newcastle Now last year to get those commuter car spaces available, because the identified issue from Newcastle Now and those businesses last year was making sure parking was available. So I would just say that there is ... I mean, when I look at your annual report, I can see that you carry over about $300,000 in retained earnings, there is capacity, you're running surpluses, there is capacity there for those either campaigns on behalf of all the businesses in the CBD. Do you have any plans for that ... for the surpluses you're running at the moment with the-
Edward Duc: Can I answer that? When this catastrophe first started in Newcastle, and I think I did a presentation here where I was very concerned that government had decided not to use the existing corridor that used Hunter Street ... but that's accomplished now, so we say no more about that, that's exactly what's going to happen. So the first thing we did was we got together with Revitalise, we got together with Mike Cassel, we were sitting in ... we were calling meetings and sitting in forums with the people who were responsible for implementing what is going on in this city, transport as well.
What we found was, was that we were not being told the truth. We were being sidelined on a number of issues. So we were extremely disappointed, because the idea was that we were supposed to meet with these people and then pass that information through to our stakeholders, so they could be informed as to what was going on. And I guess the worst thing that then happened is that they decided to close the whole of Hunter street, despite the fact that they talked about compartmentalising and finishing sections so that there would be accessibility into the city.
So we're extremely frustrated by all of this. I take your point and I agree maybe we could have been a month earlier in getting to the stakeholders and getting this group together to see if there are solutions to all of the problems there are in this city. I've got to say though, I'd be really pleased though if someone said to me, "This is the answer." It would be terrific. Having said that we have just implemented this morning a programme which we think will be fairly successful in lifting the morale of the people who are really badly affected by all of this. I could go into some detail but I'd probably miss out some of the important bits of it, but as I said, this morning we organised for a programme that you will all be aware of.
In the end it's got some very interesting people, some famous people involved, people who are well known to all of you, who have agreed to give their time for nothing to run this programme. So hopefully this will have a great affect on the city. But we're still continuing with the group we talked about and the meeting is on Thursday.
Nuatali Nelmes: Okay, and I just probably ... I understand that your board has set your priorities as a BIA, do you see a gap in those priorities, particularly around ... given that it's a business improvement association, around a focus on economic development? Like a broad economic development? There is a lot of projects running, like there is the Nobbys lighthouse, which is an important project for the city, but is it the BIA's core business would be a question of mine? Even tendering for Newcastle Station, is it a BIA's core business to be running that project?
I acknowledge that a number of years ago the activity around place making, and definitely council put a lot of funds into that process as well as the time to do a lot of those place making projects that you've listed, but in terms of just genuine economic development, considering that the $880,000 is rate payers ... is paid by rate payers. So there's a ... for us, or for me, the opaqueness to knowing exactly where that $880,000 is going and what projects are going is of a little bit of a concern.
But at the same time, when I look at some of the strategies, I know that council itself as an organisation has teams of people in strategic planning doing work around livable and walkable cities, I mean I get concerned over the overlap as well. And Councillor White raised a good point. Considering it's publicly funded, like rate payers money, data collection and our open data policy that we've adopted with Smart City, that's another ... that's just a side comment about making sure that all the data is collected in the city is open data and available for particularly government agencies and other government agencies to use in terms of making informed decisions.
They're just a couple of my concerns when I see the presentation and have a look at this, because there isn't a huge overlap or communication necessarily between the BIA and the elected council. And we've gone through a 2030 community strategic plan update process broadly with the community and to me BIA's role should be around business advocacy, economic development and broader perspectives, not necessarily nuts and bolts type delivery work of place making initiatives or doing similar strategies to what council's already doing at the same time.
Edward Duc: If I could talk Revitalise Newcastle into opening up the railway station a month ago, I would do that. This city needs something to hang it's hat on, it needs to have something to bring people into the city. At the moment, it's not an inviting place. So the philosophy behind looking at the railway station is that it's within our area. We believed it would generate a whole lot of interest and activity, that it would bring people into the city, people who normally wouldn't come into the city, so we saw it as a great opportunity, we're very disappointed that we didn't get that. And it also fits into our overall philosophy, that we can actually have projects that are self-funding, projects that actually deliver a profit, we might get into a position where the rate payers might not actually have to pay a rate, but we'll still be here, we'll still be doing it. So, I mean, that was the rationale behind that.
In terms of the programmes we're running, I think we're more than pleased if council wants to come to us, or we'll come to council, discuss where the overlaps are, see if we can be more efficient on both sides as to how we do this. We do have, as we've said, we have constant contact with senior Councillors, council officers sorry. And we're liaising with them. We haven't had a sense that we're not doing what we're supposed to do, so I apologise if that's the case. But, let's sit down and talk about it, that's what we do.
Nuatali Nelmes: Yeah, I'm just making comment on the presentation this evening, and I do appreciate your time but I get rich pretty strongly on issues to do with businesses in the city and they're looking to council to pick up the slack in some ares that, in my view, haven't been picked up by the BIA. So they're coming to me saying, "Well you do this." And I'm thinking, "Well the BIA's collecting rate payer money to do exactly that, but now I've got to go and do it or council's got to go and do it."
So that's where the most recent concerns have been, particularly for me, and I have to say because we're in a public forum, as a chairman of the Business Improvement Association for the city of Newcastle to make public comments about the city not being attractive or inviting is of great concern to me. Because part of the problem is I see, there is parking available, there's lots of great businesses and there's lots of great things happening in the city, and yes there's construction, but as far as I'm concerned the city's open for business, and the more that people talk it down, the more concerned people get and they don't come into the city.
And I think one of the main roles of a business improvement association should be promoting the CBD as being open for business. Because if that constant negative narrative about construction and it's hard to find a park or whatever the concern is is perpetuated, time and time again, there is an element that there is some truth to it, and that affects the businesses more. So I must say I go out of my way to make sure people know that there are parks available and the businesses are open in the CBD. I think it's a really important role of the BIA to be doing that for local businesses, in partnership with council and other organisations, but to me it is vitally important.
That's not a question, just take it as a comment, because I know you've been here for a long time. Are there any other questions from Councillors? Councillor Robinson?
Allan Robinson: Yeah to Michael and Ed, I thank you for your presentation, I think you've answered a lot of questions here tonight too without warning and you've handled yourself very well. I think you can leave here tonight knowing you're a appreciated and very well respected organisation. And your honesty Ed, some people have trouble with. See ya mate.
Nuatali Nelmes: Are there any other questions from Councillors? We thank you for your presentation tonight, we do thank you for your time and the work that you have done in the city, it is appreciated.
Allan Robinson: Thank you.
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillors that will close our briefing committee at 7:59 pm, we'll go straight into-
Jason Dunn: Lord Mayor we might need a motion.
Nuatali Nelmes: Yes, let's have a resolution. Do I have a resolution to accept the briefing?
Nuatali Nelmes: Councillor Dunn, seconded by Councillor Winney-Baartz, all those in favour please raise your hand. All those against. I declare it carried.