Councillors voted to keep Peel St, from between Brisbane and Bourke streets, closed to traffic during Country Music Festival at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The report before councillors recommended they vote in favour of opening the street to traffic for the 2018 festival, as it was seeing reduced crowds and opening it “would provide increased parking and enable the festival precinct to be further consolidated and enhanced”.
However, Cr Juanita Wilson moved an alternative motion that the street main stay closed for future festivals until 2020, which was passed on a 7-2 vote.
Tamworth Business Chamber has offered to manage that section of Peel St during the festival.
Here’s what the councillors and the businesses said.
Mayor Col Murray – Voted against keeping the street closed to traffic
Cr Murray said the arguments to keep the street closed “are still all the same” as they were two years ago, when the same issue came before council.
“We’re proposing to extend this decision for another three years, it will be another new council, the decision was made by a past council – I think we are just shelving a difficult decision here,” he said.
“I think there are a lot of businesses in this city that are negatively impacted.
“I think we need to be more strategic, we’ve got a whole community out there that we’ve got to represent and that's the responsibility that we're charged with.
“I believe I personally would be negligent in that duty if I didn’t consider the broader community and the strategic advantages of refreshing and modernising and moving the festival.
“If we take a bit of a glimpse at the history and the way the festival has evolved over time, there is change. Council and the community have invested in Bicentennial Park and the crowds are moving.”
Deputy mayor Helen Tickle - Voted against keeping the street closed to traffic
Cr Tickle said she “wasn’t opposed to the plan” of keeping the street closed, but voted against it.
“I value the expertise of our event management team and we’ve also had strategic planning on this,” she said.
“For the long-term plans for the festival we need to think about this.”
Cr Tickle said there appeared to be a lot of businesses who want the street closed, there are some businesses who wanted to have it open, so there was no way to please everybody.
“Even if the street is open, it doesn't mean to say that nobody will go down there,” she said.
“So many people said to me they liked going down there because it was a bit quieter.
“All the indications from retailers, there were more people down there this year, and some businesses recorded 30 to 40 per cent increase on their sales from the previous year.
“Also, with having a three year plan, unfortunately we know a lot of small businesses change hands in that period, so that precinct will have to have an ongoing strategy.”
Councillor Juanita Wilson – Voted for keeping the street closed to traffic
Cr Wilson moved the motion to keep the street closed
She said the Business Chamber stepping up to take ownership of the block was reminiscent of the festival’s roots.
“In a sense that’s the history of Country Music Festival, it was never something owned just by council, it was initially driven by private enterprise and by individuals,” Cr Wilson said.
“When a group of businesses say ‘hey, we don’t like what is proposed, we’re prepared to take ownership of this’, I think we need to listen to them, because that’s no small matter.
“The very least we can do is to make their impact on Country Music Festival, which belongs to us all.
“I would like to think we would be pleasantly surprised with what they come up with.”
Councillor Jim Maxwell – Voted for keeping the street closed to traffic
Cr Maxwell said it would be a backwards step” to close the street – but he didn’t always think that.
“I must admit I've completely changed my view on this,” he said.
“I thought it would be a good thing to have it open after looking around last year, I thought it was fairly dead down that end and perhaps it may be a good thing to reopen the street.
“But having talked to the businesses down there, I must admit I was swayed in my views. Some of the things they quoted in their turnover and so forth, makes me think we need to support them.
“As our festival is growing, it would be a backwards step to cut back the space of where it’s held.”
Councillor Charles Impey – Voted for keeping the street closed to traffic
Cr Impy said despite the “element of unknown” he was happy to support the plan.
With the Business Chamber planning to work with council’s event management team, he said there were “a lot of really smart heads coming together”.
“I’m very confident they’ll come up with something quite different and innovative, that perhaps hasn’t been explored in the past,” Cr Impy said.
“I think it’s worth giving them a shot.”
Business Chamber president Jye Segboer
Mr Segboer led the charge against the closure and said council’s decision was a “big win for small businesses” at the northern end of Peel St.
“Traditionally, January and February are the quietest months of the year and the festival is key to keeping those businesses and hospitality outlets afloat for that two month period,” he said.
“Without foot traffic in the area, we’d see a lot of businesses struggle financially in that period.”
The chamber will soon begin working with council and businesses to investigate ways of improving foot traffic and entertainment at the northern end of the street.
“Our first step is to meet with all of the retailers and hospitality outlets in this precinct and see what ideas they have, and what has and hasn’t work in past,” Mr Segboer said.
“It’s early days, but we are hoping next week we can have those conversations with everybody.
“I thank the councillors for voting in favour of keeping it closed.”
Hogsbreath owner Norm Hindmarsh
Mr Hindmarsh, who bought the business two years ago, said leaving the street closed was a “very sound and sensible position”.
“We factored the Festival into how much the business was worth when we bought it,” Mr Hindmarsh said.
“Now we’ve got some solidarity and consistency that we’re not going to lose that foot traffic,” Mr Hindmarsh said.
“Having that knife hanging over head was quite discouraging. This gives us room to plan and to look ahead – we’re looking at a refurbishment to bring more business to the area.”
Tamworth Outdoor and Camping World owner Roger Cupples
Mr Cupples was “very happy” with the decision, which he says will lead to a “bright future down our end of the street”.
“We rely very heavily on foot traffic from the festival – if the road were to be open to cars it would be a safety and logistical nightmare,” he said.
“The extra business from January flows on to help get us through February.”
“The businesses are looking forward to working with the chamber and with council towards a greater outcome for this end of the street and the festival in general.”