Strong support for small bars in Newcastle

AN online campaign to encourage small bars in Newcastle and revitalise city laneways has received an astonishing response on social media websites, garnering more than 1600 backers within 24 hours.

The petition, created by Matt Endacott, calls for a streamlined application process for small licensed venues.

Mr Endacott posted the petition on the Renew Newcastle Facebook page about 5pm on Sunday. Within hours, it was being promoted on Facebook and Twitter.

About 1000 people had signed on to the cause by 11am yesterday, and more than 1700 by 6pm were calling for a different approach to the management of the city’s late-night economy.

Alcohol-fuelled violence continues to blight the city’s reputation, and almost all new liquor-related applications have met with significant opposition.

An application for a small bar, now Bar Petite, at the Royal development sparked calls for a moratorium on new liquor licences in 2010.

The same year, Newcastle City Council and the police opposed moves by Darby Street cafes to extend their liquor licences to the footpath, citing concerns about ‘‘community safety and pedestrian amenity’’.

The petition calls on the council to streamline the approval process and ‘‘offer assistance to small business owners and entrepreneurs who are committed to opening intimate and sophisticated alternatives to the city’s nightclubs’’.

‘‘Priority should also be given to bars that will increase the amenity of lanes and precincts characterised by urban decay,’’ it says.

The NSW Government passed a ‘‘small bars bill’’ in 2008, removing red tape for bars with a proposed capacity of fewer than 120 people. The City of Sydney offers grants of up to $30,000 to start up bars and other businesses to try to revitalise city laneways.

Mr Endacott’s petition said Sydney had a significant reduction in alcohol-related assaults on licensed premises between 2008 and 2010.

But in Melbourne, the home of small laneway bars, the effect of the experiment is disputed. In 2009 the Victorian government placed a moratorium on all new liquor licences in the city after growing incidents of violence.

In Newcastle, the push for small bars seems to have struck a chord with residents seeking a diverse mix of night time venues.

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