Don't talk down Oxford Street

Liberal City of Sydney Councillor, Christine Forster's op ed in the Daily Telegraph has revealed she's out of touch with businesses on Oxford Street.

They want us to encourage people to visit the strip and discover what's on offer, not scare them away by talking it down.

Oxford Street has plenty going for it - creative businesses, art schools and universities, cafes, cinemas, bookstores, American Apparel, secret gardens in the Reservoir, Saturday markets and glamorous day spas.

The issues holding back commercial activity on Oxford Street are complex, go back decades and can only be solved by multiple agencies, governments and the private sector working together.

Not once, in her 685 word diatribe, does Cr Forster mention that one of the key concerns of businesses on Oxford Street is the unpopular introduction of clearways by the NSW Government.

The clearways operate from 6am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm and make kerbside parking illegal at a time when most people in the area want to shop, eat or visit local shops. The buses thundering down the clearway also create a noisy and unpleasant environment for people on the strip.

As Lord Mayor and the former Member for Sydney, I've repeatedly asked the Government to remove the clearways - last month I joined Woollahra Mayor, Toni Zeltzer, and Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, to again ask the Government to get rid of them.

The Darlinghurst Business Partnership, which represents many Oxford Street businesses, recently wrote "for a long time, businesses from both City of Sydney and Woollahra have identified the removal of the clearways as a crucial aspect of successfully combating the problems faced by Oxford Street."

The City has invested more than $45 million on more than 50 individual projects to improve Oxford Street over the last six years, including upgrading footpaths, installing new lighting and providing new seating and landscaping.

And if Cr Forster did some research, she'd know that we have secured key anchor tenants, are progressively refurbishing our older properties and our Creative Spaces program has been hugely successful.

Expensive rents set by some private landlords have contributed to many of the vacant shopfronts on the strip so the City provided our own properties as affordable work spaces to over 150 artists and creative entrepreneurs.

Around 40 per cent of these tenants turned over between $5,000 and $25,000 in the last quarter with one reported turnover of over $100,000.

These tenants are eating and shopping locally and since the program began they've spent about $1 million on local goods and services and attracted over 45,000 visitors to Oxford Street.

We've been encouraging other landlords to follow our lead to help grow the local economy.

Our work is getting results - earlier this year several businesses and landlords asked the City, which only has responsibility for the northern end, to take control of the whole of Oxford Street. While that's not in our plans, we're working very closely with Woollahra Council, who manage the southern end.

The last thing Oxford Street needs is the kind of politicking our Liberal Councillors excel at - blindly ignoring facts that discount their claims and damaging the revitalisation of Oxford Street that is underway.

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