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City traders hit back at new umbrella group plan

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City traders have hit back at a proposal to “wind-up” precinct groups, claiming the Adelaide City Council has “insulted” their professionalism as volunteers and did not adequately consult about its plan to unite the groups under one body.

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Traders and representatives from precinct groups attended an Adelaide City Council special committee meeting last night about a proposal to appoint a council-funded board tasked with overseeing marketing, investment and business growth across the CBD and North Adelaide.

The proposed agency, called the Adelaide Economic Development Agency (AEDA), would oversee the eight not-for-profit precinct groups and traders associations – and the Rundle Mall Management Authority – that currently receive annual council funding to represent the interests of residents and businesses in their respective local areas.

A report published on Friday by the council’s administration said the AEDA would oversee a group of four new city “districts” or sub-committees, and would encourage the existing precinct groups to “wind-up and transition (to) the new structure”.

“It is expected that existing (precinct group) chairs would all receive a seat on the relevant sub-committee, with other seats filled by business owners and operators within the district,” the report said.

The council report argued precinct groups are not best equipped to drive spending in the city as they rely on unskilled volunteers, lack connection to “city vision and initiatives” and they have an “inability to make a material difference”.

In comparison, the report said an independent citywide agency – made up of “skills-based” professionals – would deliver a “seamless and streamlined support for customer experience” that could “position the city as the premier retail destination in the state”.

Precinct groups and traders associations would not have decision-making powers under the AEDA, but they could provide feedback and suggestions about their local areas through an agency-appointed “business development manager”.

Katrina Lister, who owns a small business on Oakley Street and is associated with the Grote Business Precinct, told InDaily this morning the language used to describe precinct groups was “a pretty obvious and blatant insult”.

“Clearly improvements to precinct groups can be made but I don’t think it’s an improvement to belittle the people that have been working for our community for the last 20 years,” she said after attending last night’s committee meeting.

“To imply that we have no expertise… a lot of people saw red over that.

“To publicly undervalue any volunteer, no matter how large or small their role, is the very height of rudeness.”

The council’s associate director of economic development and innovation Matt Grant said the value of local precinct groups “might have been lost a little bit in the documentation”.

“It’s really important to note that they’re the best voice on the street,” he said during last night’s meeting.

“They are groups of volunteers and it’s up to the passion and drive of the individual volunteers and business owners to make that association’s objectives succeed.”

A map showing the proposed new “districts” under the Adelaide Economic Development Agency model. Image: Adelaide City Council

Traders have also expressed frustration at being kept in the dark by the council about its proposed changes to precinct groups.

When InDaily contacted groups about the proposed changes on Monday morning, several said they were unable to comment, as they had not been provided with information from the council.

City South Association president David Bolton said he was “disappointed” about a lack of communication between the council and the precinct groups.

“They put the agenda for last night’s meeting up on the internet in the public domain but they didn’t advise us that that was happening,” he said.

“The first we heard that this was all happening was when we were contacted by the media… I find that disappointing because they could have just sent us an email to say ‘this is happening next Thursday and here is the report’.”

Bolton said council staff had invited precinct groups to a meeting to discuss a feasibility study ahead of last night’s meeting, but that meeting was cancelled because the council decided it wanted to consult with elected members first.

The council’s manager of city growth Craig Burton said last night that a combined meeting had been arranged “which probably would have been an option to speak to them (precinct groups)”.

He said precinct groups would be given a copy of the feasibility study “at an appropriate time”.

“We are certainly planning on speaking to precinct groups in more detail,” Burton said.

But Bolton said if the council approved the model proposed by council staff “that will be the end of the groups essentially”.

He said he was unsure if he could continue to represent city south traders and residents under the proposed model, as the new south district boundary published in the council report does not cover where he currently lives.

“I believe it would be a shame – I thought we were doing a good job as we are,” he said.

“The south-west area, our border goes to Pulteney (Street) and now they want the border to go to King William (Street), so I’m not in the border of that because I live near Pulteney Street.

“I couldn’t be involved anymore for the precinct groups under that new model.”

Bolton said the precinct groups would meet on Monday night to discuss the proposed changes.

At last night’s committee meeting, Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said the council had “jumped too quickly” at suggesting a new governance and funding model for precinct groups.

“I think we should actually step through a better conversation with those (precinct) groups,” she said.

“I think we’ve sort of jumped a little bit too quickly to the governance and funding models as opposed to spending a little bit more time around what’s working, what’s not, what we’re trying to achieve (and) how we might do that in terms of equity.”

But the council’s CEO Mark Goldstone said there were “two sides” to the consultation process.

“We fully understand that it’s appropriate to engage with the key stakeholders, but it’s also very important that you (elected members) understand what work we’re doing with that as well,” he said.

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