Newcastle’s next Lord Mayor spoke at Friday’s Hunter Lunch – that much we know. Exactly who that person is, will remain a mystery until Local Government elections are held on September 8.
Six contenders for the position of civic leader outlined their vision for the city and took part in an entertaining and lively Q&A session. Bob Hawes, PCA Life Member, described the candidates as “brave souls” and congratulated them on standing for public office.
A wide range of views were expressed and opinions were divided on critical issues like the future of the CBD heavy rail line. Only incumbent Councillor Aaron Buman and prominent Hunter developer Jeff McCloy would explicitly support removal.
ALP candidate Nuatali Nelmes and Clean Sweep candidate Col Peebles said they would not support removal without a funded alternative for better public transport. The Green’s John Sutton and Community 1st’s Bryan Havenhand said the rail line must stay.
On the matter of backlogged DA’s, all agreed the process must be improved, but John Sutton told the crowd consultation was important and that the length of time taken to decide DA's should not be seen as the sole marker of success.
Councillor Buman put forward his ideas for Council planners having strict KPI’s and creating a “one-stop-shop” for development proponents. Jeff McCloy said a greater role for the private sector was the only way to achieve greater efficiency.
Several candidates spoke about the decision making process within the council chamber. Col Peebles said he would make sure the next group of councillors could work together. Nuatali Nelmes said, ‘‘It’s about working with your colleagues no matter what their affiliations or political background to get the best outcome for Newcastle.’’
Asked how they would spend the $4 million budgeted for Hunter Street improvements, another divide among the candidates was evident. Councillor Nelmes said the Council needed to first see the state government’s urban renewal SEPP. The Greens, Community 1st and Clean Sweep candidates wanted the emphasis to be on cleanliness, safety and sustainability.
Only Councillor Buman and Jeff McCloy had firm views on immediate action that could be taken to improve sections of Hunter Street – with Buman calling for modern bus shelters along the strip and McCloy insisting, “Council needs to simply get on with the job by picking a section for beautification, spending the money, building community acceptance and then moving onto the next section.”
Following the event, candidate Jacqueline Haines revealed her plans for a vibrant city. They include a flying fox down the Hunter Street mall and a convention centre built over the CBD rail line, complete with an elevated park and floating walkways.
In a few short weeks, Newcastle residents will have the chance to decide who gets the top job until 2016. To make our city work, that person will need to restore confidence in the Council and have a plan for action on CBD renewal.