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Newcastle New Years Eve plans leave traders anxious

CELEBRATION: New Years Eve fireworks at Honeysuckle in 2015. PICTURE: Marina NeilNEWCASTLE’S New Year’s Eve celebrations have been slammedby Honeysuckle traders who say the biggest event on their calendar has been treated as an “afterthought” by the city’s council.
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Just days out from the event, theNewcastle Heraldhas seen correspondencefrom the Honeysuckle Community Group –made up of residents and retailers in the precinct –to Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmesexpressing “dismay” that planning for the city’s new year’s celebrations “had only been initiated some three weeks ago”.

TheHeraldunderstands it was sent in response to a briefing from a council officer earlier in December which prompted concerns from traders that planning for the event –including roadblocks on Honeysuckle Drive, and the location of the fireworks–had been left to the last minute.

“Icouldn’t imagine being a retailer in Sydney and havingsomeone from Sydney City Council come along and say we’re just hurriedly putting together the planning now in December,”Josh Hodges, the manager of Hog’s Breath Cafe in Honeysuckle said.

“It’s the biggest night of the year for us and we obviously put a lot of time and effort into the timingand planning of it.”

But the council has dismissed the concerns,saying planning for the event started as early as April.

“I can assure you, planning for New Year’s Eve celebrations did not begin three weeks ago,” the council’s acting head of planning Andrew Baxter wrote in response to the group’s letter last week.

Atthe heart of the dispute appears to be the role –or lack thereof –of the Hunter Development Corporation in organisingthe event.

For the past two years the HDC hassponsoredthe city’s new year celebrations –as well as a number of other Honeysuckle events –but theHeraldunderstands it wasn’t approached by the councilthis time.

In its letter to Cr Nelmes, the Honeysuckle Community Group expressed concern at the lack of“corporate sponsorship” for the New Year’s Eve event,including the loss of “significant funding support” from the HDC.

Figures from the HDC’s last twoannual reportsrevealit spent$152,000on “community activation projects”, which included New Year’s Eve, the Asian Cup, Day and Surfest.

“The Corporation and the City of Newcastle teamed up to deliver a program of events in the city centre, centred on Honeysuckle, levering off the 2015 Asian Cup,” the annual report from 2014-15 states.

“A professional event management company was appointed to deliver a diverse program of events in Newcastle between New Year’s Eve and February 2015.

“The initiative was designed to leverage the enormous boost the Asian Cup brought to the Newcastle visitor economy.”

The program was repeated in 2015-16–with events like the successful Winter Heat festival –but was not continued this financial year.

In his response to the group, Mr Baxter wrote that HDC “unfortunately no longer provide sponsorship” to the New Year’s Eve event, but remained “involved in the planning”.

Tim Lees, the director of the Honeysuckle Community Group, said he washappy with the response from the council.

“The understanding we were given initiallywas that the event hadn’t been planned for too long, [however]the council didput a bit more information on the table,” he said.

“They’ve insisted there has beenmany, many months of planning and are quite confident event willbe good.”

However traders including Mr Hodges –a former Port Stephens Councillor and Liberal Party staffer –also raised concernabout a lack of road blocks on Honeysuckle Drive, and the council’s decision to move the fireworks launching area from Dyke Point in Carrington to a barge on the harbour.

But the council has also defended itself on that front.

It said that rather than introduce road blocks it will use“traffic calming measures” in the area, and that “provision has been made for a road closure to be activated only in the event of unanticipated crowd numbers or if directed to by NSW Police”.

And while the fireworks have been moved, a spokeswoman from the Port of Newcastle confirmed Dyke Point was “currently in use for project cargo storage” and so couldn’t be used.

“Port of Newcastle has assisted Council in planning the New Year’s Eve fireworks by coordinating communication with the owner of the barge and providing access to the wharf where the barge is moored,” she said.