‘It’s too late’, Supercars boss rejects Shortland Esplanade

Supercars chief executive James Warburton with Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes at Fort Scratchley on Tuesday. PICTURE: Marina Neil

Supercars chief executive James Warburton with Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes at Fort Scratchley on Tuesday. PICTURE: Marina Neil

IT’S too late for Shortland Esplanade.

That was the message to Newcastle City Council from Supercars chief executive James Warburton during a visit on Tuesday at which he said the race had been victim to “scaremongering” that would subside once East End residents experienced the race.

Supercars Australia were drawn into the increasingly fraught relationship between Newcastle City Council and the state’s tourism body, Destination NSW, last week when the Lord Mayor, Nuatali Nelmes, said Mr Warburton had told her he was open to changing the race circuit as recently as last week.

Cr Nelmes and the council have become increasingly frustrated with Destination NSW for what they see as the organisation’s failure to properly coordinate the race and consult with residents who are unhappy that the race runs through residential areas in the East End.

Last Tuesday councillors agreed to a motion that asked for the state government to consider changing the route, with a view to moving it down Shortland Esplanade.

The idea was quickly ruled out by Supercars Australia, who said it was too late in the game to change the route.

But on Wednesday Cr Nelmes doubled down, telling the Herald she had been told via a text from Mr Warburton that the option was still alive.

That’s drawn the ire of Liberal Party Councillor Brad Luke, who called on Cr Nelmes to release the texts.

“She should supply the entire text message conversation with James Warburton,” Cr Luke said.

He ridiculed the idea of taking the track down Shortland Esplanade, saying it was “obviously too dangerous when the surf is up”.

“Does she plan on having a council worker down there with a stop and go sign when the race is on?” he said.

The Newcastle Herald has seen one text from Supercars chief executive James Warburton to Cr Nelmes sent the Monday before last week’s meeting in which he says he “can always do everything possible if that is the way you want to go [but] deadlines are extremely tight”.

However the Herald also understands Mr Warburton believed a number of text messages sent before then made it clear the route was not feasible.

The Herald has also been told that council officers were provided with a report in February that explained why the Shortland route was not possible, including safety concerns and the extra cost of the route.

The council has been asked for comment.

On Tuesday Mr Warburton said the Shortland Esplanade option had been ruled out “at the end of last year” after concerns raised by the International Automobile Federation – or FIA – over the safety of the running the race along the road, and the extra cost. 

“Our view is we always that we want to provide a service, and what the community wants and in this case what the lord mayor wants, but unfortunately the timing of this, it’s too late, it’s set, and the track we have is the track we’ll have for 2017 and beyond,” Mr Warburton said at a press conference standing next to Cr Nelmes.  

“Ultimately with Shortland Esplanade it really comes down to a couple of things [for example] there were concerns around the seawall.

“Obviously we’re aware there’s some community consultation and polling going on at the moment so you can never say never but whether or not that’s an option remains to be seen.”

Cr Nelmes denied that the council’s motion was about moving the track to Shortland Esplanade, saying it merely sought to consult with the community on the route of the track.

“Good community consultation doesn’t pre-empt the outcome,” she said.

“It should have been done at the beginning, that’s why I have been frustrated by the management of the race.

“I think the community should be asked [but] it’s been made very clear now that for whatever reason they can't move the track for 2017.”

However Cr Luke criticised the mayor for not raising the issues earlier, saying she was “in election mode”.

“I hear Labor preselections are open and if you want to know what the real story is that’s what I would be looking at,” he said.

Cr Nelmes dismissed that, pointing to correspondence she sent to former Premier Mike Baird in December calling for more consultation over the race.

Mr Warburton, who was in Newcastle to promote the race on Tuesday, said Supercars was not concerned with the political stoushes and community opposition.

“Ultimately for us we just get on with the job,” he said.

“We’ve been dealing with it for 27 years on the Gold Coast so the reality is that obviously there are always people who either don’t support it or don’t want to see it but I suppose the overall benefit of what this event brings to Newcastle is something that is there for the greater good of the community.” 

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