By Michael Forno
The Inner West Council has heralded its revitalisation of the lackluster Norton Street as a success, but the council’s claims may prove to be baseless.
In a media release published last week the council said the number of vacant retail premises on the Leichhardt high street had dropped from 23 to 10 since 2013.
Interim administrator of the new Inner West Council Richard Pearson is quoted as saying “It is a very healthy sign pointing to the revitalisation of Norton Street that we have witnessed in recent years. From street activations to a variety of new businesses starting up, Council activations are definitely making a difference.”
Despite Mr Pearson’s assuredness there appears to be no substantive evidence for his claims. A spokesperson for the Inner West council was unable to advise where the council’s figures had come from, and stopped short of admitting there was no evidence for Norton Street’s revitalisation.
President of the Leichhardt Business Chamber Mark Chapman was also unable to attest to the credibility of Mr. Peason’s claims.
“There is no silver bullet to revitalising Norton Street and the surrounding area. But things are looking better along the street, there are new businesses popping up all the time,” Mr. Chapman said.
When pressed on whether Mr. Pearson’s comments have any evidence from recent reports or studies Mr. Chapman offered that “Walking along the street itself is the best comparative study one can do.”
The media release also stated “Mr. Pearson said much credit for the Norton Street renewal can be attributed to the 2013-16 Economic and Employment Development Plan developed by the former Leichhardt Council which is in the third year of its 4 year activation period.”
Former Independent councillor in Leichardt John Stamolis was involved in implementing the 2013-2016 Economic and Employment Development Plan. He told City Hub he’s concerned that while major shopping strips like Norton Street are the focus of council, smaller shopping areas risk being overlooked.
“I am a little bit worried after the council amalgamations that some of the smaller shopping areas may not become priorities on council agenda,” he said.
“This council now has three significant business areas within its boundary; Leichhardt, Marrickville and Ashfield. My concern is that the layer of management now is smaller than what it was in the past. There is one manager managing our Economic Development Plan and you can see that all the attention might well be on the three major business centres.
“We need to make sure the Economic Development Plan focuses on those other smaller shopping areas such as Balmain, Rozelle, Annandale and Dulwich Hill. We need to make sure resources are in place under the new council for the wider commercial benefits of the council,” he said.
Documents obtained by City Hub reveal the sharp increase in the number of businesses included in the new council boundary.
The new council now contains approximately 20,000 businesses. The former councils of Leichhardt, Marrickville and Ashfield contained approximately 7000, 8000, and 4000 respectively.
One of the more notable businesses of Leichhardt is the Royal Hotel, which has undergone a recent renovation and a subsequent reinvigoration.
James Cox has worked at the Royal Hotel for five years. He told City Hub that nothing much has changed since the implementation of the new Inner West Council.
“I’ll be honest with you, there’re equally as incompetent. I don’t know whether they’re thinking about what they’re doing because there’s no understanding or knowledge of the area,” he said.
Mr. Cox believes Council isn’t doing enough to assist local business on Norton Street, including offering reasonable car parking.
“People aren’t coming, that’s part of it. Who wants to go to dinner and get a $120 fine? Free parking would be amazing.”
Despite Council’s shortcomings Mr. Cox says the Royal Hotel is doing well and bringing wider economic benefits to the area.
“Weekend nights are crazy. We’re always booked out. Our pub is a draw card. We draw people into Norton Street and then people spread out.” he said.