Parking 'reality' sinks in for inner-city Newcastle businesses

Traders will need to get used to the “reality” of reduced parking in Newcastle’s evolving inner-city, according to the head of a Honeysuckle business and resident group.

Honeysuckle Community Group president Tim Lees has asked Newcastle City Council and Hunter Development Corporation for help after Honeysuckle businesses recorded a sharp fall in trade when the temporary 250-space Lee Wharf car park closed in April.

HCG says an informal survey showed many Honeysuckle businesses have suffered a year-on-year cut in trade of more than 18 per cent since work started on an apartment building on the car park site. The fall is closer to 50 per cent for some retailers.

The group has asked HDC and the council for free weekend parking near Honeysuckle – overtures largely rejected by both organisations – but Mr Lees said traders ultimately had to “learn to live with” the long-term effects of the light rail project and other changes in the city.

“It’s a done deal. We’ve got to face it,” he said. “Not all things go our way, and this is one of those, but it’s a fact of life. We’ve got to attack it and do whatever we can to remind people that Honeysuckle’s still great.

“You’ve got to cut your cloth accordingly. If it’s not the right venue for you, go and find one that is. It might be harsh, but we’ve all been in business, and that’s the sort of thing that happens.”

The Newcastle Herald has seen a draft layout of parking arrangements along the light rail route which confirms that almost all parking and loading zones have disappeared permanently in Scott Street and Hunter Street east of Union Street.

Transport for NSW’s 2016 review of environmental factors for the light rail project said the tram line would cut 267 spaces from Hunter and Scott streets and 75 at the Wickham interchange.

The 386-space Perkins Street car park closed early this year for the start of Iris Capital’s Hunter Street mall redevelopment, and the 270-space open-air car park at the west end of Honeysuckle Drive is likely to go some time after HDC sells its last stretch of waterfront land.

The cumulative effect of these and other changes will be the loss of 1250 parking spots, although both Honeysuckle car parks were only temporary additions to the city’s parking stock.

WORRIED: Glen Fredericks at Empire Coffee Co on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

WORRIED: Glen Fredericks at Empire Coffee Co on Friday. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

“People are going to have to learn to live with it,” Mr Lees said.

“I think it’s up to private enterprise to take opportunities now as to whether it’s viable to actually build and run private parking spaces.

“HDC have made it clear that they’re not going to use prime land down there [at Honeysuckle] for parking.

“When the light rail gets going, that’s going to be a blast. And, when everything settles down in terms of construction, people from outside Newcastle are going to be happy to come into town.

“It’s this transition period that’s a real kick in the guts for traders down there.”

Empire Coffee owner Glen Fredericks said his business was “getting desperate” due to parking and traffic issues.

“If the trend continues, I can’t see my business making next month’s rent,” he said.

Mr Fredericks has been posting photographs of empty car spaces on Facebook to let customers know Honeysuckle is still accessible.

Much of the criticism around parking is from people who are clinging to a memory of how things used to be.

Jeremy Bath

He said HDC should open its 188-space Wright Lane car park for free on weekends as a “stopgap” measure.

“Then we can go, ‘Come in. Free parking.’ And I feel that would pull people in.”

Newy Burger Co owner Ben Neil is spending an additional $12,000 to $15,000 a month to operate a temporary venue at Honeysuckle after closing his Hunter Street restaurant during light rail works.

He agreed that railing against the lack of parking was pointless but many business people were facing dire circumstances.

“The reality is that, as operators, if you’re locked into leases, you’d like to be able to find a viable way to trade through it,” he said. “You just can’t walk away from a lease.

“The sad part is the businesses going broke. There’s people losing rental bonds, which may be $50,000 or $60,000 or more. You hear stories of people losing their houses because that’s all they had.”

Mr Neil questioned the wisdom of removing parking when customers could take their business elsewhere.

“There seems to be lots of work going on with the light rail, but there doesn’t seem to be any connecting the dots.

“Where are people actually going to park to get on this amazing piece of transport to be able to utilise our city, which is the whole reason we’re investing in it.

“With shopping centres only getting bigger, Charlestown and Kotara and Greenhills, where’s the incentive for people to come back into town?

“People still drive cars, and the reality is that Newcastle people have had and are still in the mindset that they want to be able to pull up at a business. They’ll just go somewhere else.”

Car park owner Darren Nicholson said the issue was not a lack of parking spaces but Novocastrians’ reluctance to pay for them.

His $11-a-day Gibson Street and Bolton Street parking stations are not at capacity during the week and are nearly empty on weekends. The council’s $6-a-day parking lot at No.2 Sportsground is also half-full all week, as is the private Wharf Road car park.

“They want more car parks built. Who’s going to be the brave soul to tell them, ‘I’ll go and build more car parks, but they’ve got to be twice the price,’” Mr Nicholson said. “That’s the harsh reality. We want to be like Sydney, but we don’t want to pay.”

The council and HDC launched a park-and-ride scheme from Broadmeadow last year, and it is understood the council is looking at expanding this service to other areas.

The council said on Friday that the park-and-ride had carried an average of 252 passengers a day since launching 28 weeks ago.

The council made $7.644 million in parking revenue in 2016-17, up $772,000 on the previous year, and $3.672 million in parking fines, up from $2.877 million.

Asked whether enough planning had gone into providing parking, Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the council had approved developments worth $325 million in Newcastle West with a minimum of 1778 new parking spaces in the past two years.

“I also believe that Newcastle’s rapid urban renewal has provided us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a sustainable and integrated transport network right across the City of Newcastle,” she said.

“Crucial to the realignment to the west is the new CBD’s central location to a multi-modal transport hub with the Newcastle Interchange connecting existing heavy rail connections to future bus, light rail and ferry services, a project which has only been possible because of council's strong advocacy.

“Our Connecting Newcastle strategy has long set out council’s vision of creating a network where buses, trains, cars and light rail co-exist with pedestrians and cyclists.

“Thankfully, the NSW government has strongly backed this vision by providing funding for public domain upgrades to complement the initial light rail construction and improve connectivity and active transport connections.

“I’m confident that a combination of an expanded light rail network, council's own inner-city revitalisation programs coupled with NSW government investment and our continued rollout of expanded cycleway networks aligns with our long-term goal of encouraging Newcastle’s travel culture towards public and active transport.”

The council’s chief executive officer, Jeremy Bath, said people’s attitudes to parking needed to change as the city evolved.

“Much of the criticism around parking is from people who are clinging to a memory of how things used to be,” he said.

“I myself for many years referred to the CBD as town. The reality is that Newcastle is very much a city.

“That's exciting and offers many economic opportunities. But it also comes with the reality that luxuries such as parking outside the door of the location you wish to visit are no longer realistic.

“We need to accept that we must pay for parking but also that it’s typically going to involve walking.

“If you are willing to walk 10 minutes, then it’s not hard to find a park anywhere in the city.

“This requires a change in people’s behaviour, such as allowing time to find a park and walk a distance.

“You can either park 10 minutes from your destination or spend 20 minutes searching for a park within a stone’s throw of where you want to go. The latter, of course, comes with no guarantee of success but plenty of frustration.” 

Prominent Hunter property developer Hilton Grugeon said parking problems could discourage investment in office accommodation.

“I think it’s a lovely place to live. As a lifestyle, it’s wonderful. As a business place, get real. People can’t get in and out, your customers can’t get in and out,” he said.

“It’s a drag on employees to get there. There’s not enough people living in walking distance to do all the work.

“There is a market in town for residential with two parking spots. People are acquiring them and then using them as an investment property with one car parking spot and using the other one to be able to go to work in town.”

Premier Gladys Berejiklian raised eyebrows on a trip to Newcastle last month when she said traders did not need rental assistance because Hunter Street was “buzzing”.

She said retailers would reap the benefits of her government’s investment in the city when the light rail opened, probably in March next year. 

Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp said on Friday that the government had botched its planning for the light rail project.

“You can’t remove 1000 car parking spaces without an integrated public transport plan,” he said.

“We have a bus network in chaos, light rail that is not yet completed and 110 buses that aren’t meeting trains.

“This is a government with the wrong priorities, failing to support small business through this period of transition.”

Parry Street businessman Paul Murphy, managing director of Churchill’s Carpet Court, sees Revitalising Newcastle’s $10,000 shopper promotion and the park-and-ride service as positives but believes more needs to be done in the months before the light rail starts running.

“It would be good if they could work with the council to offer reduced prices on parking at meters in the CBD,” he said. “The hourly rate is too high for what is currently happening.

“The park-and-ride option is also a positive program to have, but the shoppers won’t use that service. We need support at the front doors or close to the businesses.

“Our business has been affected by the negativity that has been created by all the events and circumstances surrounding the revitalisation program. We’re down by 15 per cent on a year-to-year comparison.

“Building throughout the area is positive to see, but closed streets and reduced access to areas makes for difficult trading.”

The Herald contacted HDC for comment.

All-day parking options

Broadmeadow park-and-ride, $2.20 (includes return bus)

Bolton Street car park, $11 (early bird)

Gibson Street car park, $11 (early bird)

Harbour Park (Argyle Street) car park, $14 

King Street car park, $9 (early bird)

No.2 Sportsground car park, $6

Throsby car park (Honeysuckle Drive), $8.50

NEX (Wests City) car park, $8 (early bird) 

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