With the official opening of the Glenugie to Tyndale section of Pacific Highway upgrade on Monday May 18, Grafton is no longer located next to the east coast’s main thoroughfare; so what does that mean for the local economy and what is in place to ameliorate any negative effects?
“I think we are on track to address whatever happens after the highway is opened; with the gallery expansion, waterfront redevelopment, the revitalisation of the CBD and the new Grafton Bridge,” Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) general manager, Ashley Lindsay, said.
“We are making Grafton a destination.”
In March 2019, the Grafton Chamber of Commerce held a workshop in conjunction with CVC at CVC’s Grafton chambers, to discuss the likely effects of the new highway’s bypassing of Grafton and to brainstorm initiatives to counter any negative effects.
The Independent spoke with the chamber’s president, Carol Pachos, and CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay.
Ms Pachos said there has been a lot of activity since the joint workshop.
“Important points coming out of that workshop, which have been actioned and where the council and chamber have worked together are: signage at the off ramp south of Grafton, fantastic pictorial signage will soon be in position; and, the ‘Vibrant Places Initiative’ which has been greatly successful and is still ongoing,” she wrote in a response to the Independent’s inquiry.
“Additionally, we have the CVC implementing projects with the ongoing support of the Grafton Chamber of Commerce: The Riverfront Redevelopment and the Prince Street CBD Revitalisation.
“All of these were points presented by attendees at the workshop and are now either in place or coming to fruition.”
Mr Lindsay said CVC was “still waiting on the funding agreement and project scope to be signed off by the federal government”, regarding the Grafton Waterfront Precinct Plan, towards which the government has pledged $6.5million.
Page MP Kevin Hogan has told the Independent that the funding is approved and awaiting departmental processing.
“The funding may have been approved but we haven’t received formal confirmation of that,” Mr Lindsay said.
Mr Lindsay said both of the projects were “in the 2020/21 budget” and, combined with the gallery expansion, primarily funded by a $7.6million NSW Government Regional Culture Fund grant, they are developments aimed at “making Grafton a destination”.
“We also continue to promote the Jacaranda Festival,” Mr Lindsay said.
Meanwhile, CVC is “still working through the waterfront property acquisitions”.
“Hopefully, these will be completed by June 30 and, provided council receives the funding agreement, we plan to commence work in the new financial year,” Mr Lindsay said.
The CBD revitalisation, however, is “still in the planning phase, with concept plans for the Prince St CBD to be developed in the coming year”.
“A lot of consultation is still to happen with the Grafton Chamber of Commerce and the Prince Street business and property owners,” Mr Lindsay said, however, a commencement date for the work is unknown and reliant on the development of the final concept plan.
How the COVID-19 pandemic might affect these initiatives and impact the town’s economy hasn’t escaped the Grafton chamber’s attention, particularly on the back of the recent drought and bushfires.
“The chamber has worked very hard over the last months providing information on assistance available for businesses and, also, very importantly, through emails and our Facebook page – and ideas and information on businesses being innovative in the way that they do business,” Ms Pachos said.
“I continue to believe that good relevant current information that businesses can access, as well as great info and ideas about businesses thinking and working outside their old business frameworks, will give the best chance of survival; and then an opportunity to thrive in the post bypass, post COVID-19 business world.
“We know of businesses that have been proactive, getting ready for the bypass, as they moved their business to a much stronger online focus.”
“This proactivity has now positioned them very well during the COVID-19 crisis.”