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A Secret Too Well Kept

City of Newcastle
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On the coast of New South Wales rests one of Australia’s best kept secrets. In fact, in the 1940s it was this quiet aspect of Newcastle that made it the perfect hub for industrial activity in relation to the war effort – their productive harbour was only attacked once, with no casualties.  Since then, Newcastle has built up its abilities, its population and what it can offer visitors and residents alike.

Property and building development is something that Lord Mayor Jeff McCloy is very familiar with, having started his career as a construction contractor.  “I was a building contractor with a firm started by my father – we then got into property development,” recalls Lord Mayor McCloy. “As of late, we have been a fairly diverse organisation. We have had residential subdivisions, commercial buildings – we have even run pubs and hotels. We come from a diverse property background fundamentally.”

“My background is the reason I can see the prospect of many great things for Newcastle, even with some areas in decline like Hunter Street.  We need to inject excitement and energy into the life of this City and bring about change,” Lord Mayor McCloy adds.  “We need to move things along and quickly.”

Lord Mayor McCloy is known for his straightforward attitude and sense of humour, and has become a politician the people of Newcastle can trust. When running for the top job on City Council, he jested with one interviewer that “no one is smart enough to remember every lie, so you better tell the truth.”

Making it better

Lord Mayor McCloy knows Newcastle well and says that the beaches and recreational areas are without compare. “We have great beaches, a great working harbour, fantastic facilities, and it is easy to access all areas of Newcastle and the Hunter,” he says.  “What we do need is revitalisation of Hunter Street – that’s one thing we want.  We also need to open up the City to the harbour which, in my view and that of others, will bring about many opportunities for Newcastle and its people.”

Lord Mayor McCloy may be speaking about some of Newcastle’s weaknesses, but what must be noted is that the Lonely Planet travel guide last year marked Newcastle as one of its top 10 places to visit in the world, saying that it might be Australia’s most underrated city. They cite its dining, nightlife, culture and tropical climate as just a few of the reasons to visit.

“We have world class beaches, and an activated working harbour,” Lord Mayor McCloy reiterates. “We have an extensive selection of cafés and restaurants and many exciting cultural, historical and recreational activities.  The City has easy access and it is not difficult to move around from one place to another.”

Lord Mayor McCloy says the City’s proximity to Sydney makes it a short and pleasant trip for many travellers. The Hunter Valley, with its lush vineyards, also encourages many thirsty travellers. “It’s amazing in the valley of a morning.  You have the kangaroos and gardens up there to visit – all in all, it’s a great place to be.”

Visitors welcome

“The City is well-placed as a tourist and event destination.  We recently won the International Festival and Events Association Award (IFEA) – a global award for best event and festival city with a population of under 1 million, but more needs to be done.   One of the things the City is missing is a Conference and Exhibition Centre and it would be great to see a couple of five-star hotels.”

Lord Mayor McCloy recently travelled to China as part of a delegation from Newcastle to promote economic and cultural exchange.  Since his return, there have been numerous comments and media releases on the importance of travellers to the City from China and other parts of the world.

“It is a wonderful and promising industry for Australia, and we need to build relationships with other countries,” Lord Mayor McCloy says.  The delegation met with the Vice Chancellor of Yantai University who has shown an interest in housing one of its campuses in our Inner City, which could help to create Newcastle as a ‘University City.’

“We are currently identifying sites that might accommodate the campus,” he said. The Lord Mayor favours a free-model system like Notre-Dame, where a number of unused buildings are purchased and converted for university purposes. “I want to bring Newcastle University into the City and bring new life to the City.”

A makeover

The Lord Mayor acknowledges that the City’s rail line still remains a hot topic after 20 years. He knows from experience that it separates a two-minute walk across the CBD, and thus limits the interconnection of business. The issue that he sees is, the rail line, rather than serving the City, acts to divide it.

He sees the idea of having a university in the Inner City as having the potential of increasing the population of the CBD and encouraging local business.  “Student population will be required, which I am sure will be built by private enterprise. We are currently in negotiations with GPT, a major Australian company, as well as Landcom, to develop the East End of Newcastle with flats and units and commercial buildings. I have had a few meetings with them and it is an exciting project,” he says.

With his expertise and background in property management and development, Lord Mayor McCloy has the ability to recognise whether the redevelopment of the Inner City will work.  He is excited and positive about the opportunities such progress and transformation will bring to the City of Newcastle.

The population growth is important to the Lord Mayor. “Growth is a key issue for Newcastle,” he says. “We need a lot more people in the City. When you have people, you get lighting and traffic – you get safe areas. They have proved that in New York and you can also see it in Sydney.  It is paramount to get population for safety.”