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Small bars trial records successful results

An assessment of the Night-time Economy Trial has shown that the six-month evidence-based trial has been a success in terms of safety, community support and economic outcomes for the city.


The Trial involved 21 small bars and restaurants and was in response to City of Newcastle’s Newcastle After Dark Strategy, which was unanimously supported by the Council in November 2018.

The Trial was designed to support a safe, vibrant and diverse night-time economy and has been overseen by the Committee for Night-Time Jobs and Investment.

The evaluation framework captured a range of data including venue activity, alcohol related violence incidents, liquor licence compliance, and surveys of patrons, residents of suburbs with participating venues, and the general community. Liquor and Gaming NSW is leading the evaluation of the Trial.

Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the Newcastle Night-time Economy Trial was a collaborative process, involving both local and state governments, industry and community representatives.

“City of Newcastle together with Liquor and Gaming NSW, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, Newcastle Tourism Industry Group and the NSW Police have worked together to facilitate the Newcastle Night-time Economy Trial in low-risk venues with positive preliminary results,” the Lord Mayor said.

“The Trial has gathered data and invaluable insights on the impact of relaxed restrictions, and community sentiment about smaller and more diverse venues trading later into the night.

“For Newcastle to thrive as a diverse and vibrant city, our night-time economy must be strong, and we welcome the relaxation of these restrictions on a more permanent basis, to meet the needs of our community and boost the hospitality and creative industries in the wake of COVID-19 disruptions.

“The Trial has met the outcomes set out in our Newcastle After Dark Strategy, which has been shown through increased night-time economic development, cultural participation and activation in our city, without compromising residential amenity.”

Preliminary data from the Trial shows that no alcohol-related assaults have been recorded in any of the participating venues. Only two noise complaints, relating to one venue, have been received since the Trial commenced on 1 October 2020.

Based on self-reported data sourced from participating venues, during the trial period there was an overall increase in turnover, paid staff hours and the volume of patrons frequenting these venues over the period of the trial:

  • Patron counts increased by over 28% on average

  • Rostered staff hours increased by over 35% on average

  • Turnover increased by 68.95% on average

City of Newcastle also conducted multiple surveys of the community both prior and throughout the Trial period to seek feedback on the strategy and to specifically understand the support needed for low impact venues to trade later.

  • The Newcastle After Dark Community Survey received 940 submissions with 85% from the local government area (LGA) (and 99% from lower Hunter). These responses included all over 18-year age categories and came from 42 suburb across the LGA.

  • 74% of respondents were in favour of more small and diverse venues in Newcastle. Support for these venues trading later was strong, with 66% of respondents extremely or very supportive.

  • A survey of 370 city centre residents revealed that 68% were very or extremely supportive of the direction outlined in Newcastle After Dark; with 58% very or extremely supportive of later trading for low impact venues.

  • A survey of 249 patrons showed that 90% are in favour of later trading for low impact venues. People identified that more diverse venues, open later, and more people around would encourage them to participate further in the city’s night-time economy.

Blue Kahunas owner Prudence Farquhar, who is also Treasurer of the Small Bar Association and sits on the Trial Committee, said the Trial had been widely successful for the participating Trial venues and the data speaks for itself.

“The Trial has allowed us to operate on an even playing field with businesses outside of Newcastle. As a small bar owner, initially I was nervous about the Trial, but it’s brought so many positives including an encouraging atmosphere back into our venue and Newcastle nightlife, and I’ve hired more staff,” Ms Farquhar said.

“The positive data speaks for itself and the outcomes of the Trial can only encourage more small bars to open in Newcastle.”

City of Newcastle Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Bath said the positive results of the Trial are evidence of the need to regularly review laws that restrict our night-time economy. If laws are going to be defended on the basis of improved safety, then these claims need to be tested. Without evidence, we run the real risk of laws strangling our city’s tourism potential, without any offsetting increase in public safety.

“I’d like to acknowledge Minister Victor Dominello’s work in testing what on the surface looked like thirteen-year-old laws that were well past their use by date. Newcastle’s small bars and restaurants have evolved to present consumers with a boutique style offering which was not previously available in 2008,” Mr Bath said.

“Smaller sized venues with lower patron capacity attract a clientele that appreciate quality over quantity, often providing table service which allows licensees to closely observe and manage the rate of alcohol consumption. We knew these venues would present a low risk to community safety and amenity, and the preliminary Trial data confirms this, while also demonstrating positive economic outcomes for local small businesses hard-hit by COVID-19.

“Our City now hosts international events, has seen the number of annual visitors more than double in the past decade, has a significantly increased residential population living in the CBD, enjoys higher rates of tertiary education and skilled migration, has two five-star hotels about to open, and funds nationally recognised cultural facilities in the Museum and Art Gallery with booming attendances.

“And most importantly, Newcastle’s food and beverage scene has undergone a revolution all of its own and today the CBD boasts a proliferation of wine bars, fine dining including hatted restaurants and late-night casual dining options, serving locally made gin and craft beers,” he said.


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