Call to sharpen up business practices

Hornsby’s business chief is calling on the council to loosen its “nanny state” regulatory system to boost business in the shire.

Paul O’Neill, President of the 90-member Hornsby Chamber of Commerce, condemned council’s regulations as being too restrictive. He wants to see state and federal MPs to work with the council to foster more efficient business practices in Hornsby Shire at a time, when he predicts the NSW  economy is about to face a “severe economic correction.”

“The council should be doing more to help business,” he said. “I want our politicians on all three levels to change things to help entrepreneurs.

“We have historically low consumer inflation coupled with historically high house prices.  When the bubble pops, the best lifesaving solution Hornsby has is the alignment of local, state and federal politicians working together to sharpen up business.”

He says it took four months for a town centre business to be granted a liquor license by state government which he says, typifies the hoops businesses have to jump through before getting permits like development applications, changes of use, construction certificates and food premises licensing at either state or council level. “Many of these cost a lot in time and money and are a disincentive to entrepreneurship.”

O’Neill is proposing to restructure the permission requirements through an “envelope” or standard permission pack to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles and time delays.“Once the new business has ticked all the items it needs to comply with in the pack, then it’s ready to trade,” he said.

“For example a cafe taking over premises from a florist would need many of the same services – power, water and waste, so the permissions should be assumed. But the way the system is now is the antithesis of local governance as Hornsby uses its controls like a nanny state. A more permissive framework would allow for a greater diversity of occupiers to enter and exit with reduced time, cost and complexity of doing both.”

Key to making the plan work is for the politically-aligned Liberal council, state and federal levels of government to join together to pressurise legislative changes to reduce red tape.

“We need MPs Matt Kean and Julian Leeser to push council to reduce the red tape and constraints on business and start-ups – either with pressure at state level to amend laws or put pressure on council to push an easier concept like the one I’m proposing.

“These leaders have the power to get together and make Hornsby an entrepreneur-friendly environment.”

Alexi Boyd who runs a small business program on local radio station 3HHH, describes the council’s small business advocacy as “totally inadequate” with no economic development officer, despite, she says the 2011 Shire Snapshot which showed around 40 new ventures start up every week. “I’ve spoken to many local businesses about this issue and all agree support is negligible.”

With all the changes facing the shire in the next few years – NorthConnex trucks, loss of the station car park, and the changing face of both the Pacific highway and Pennant Hills Road, the Council needs to overhaul its approach to business, she affirms. “Hornsby Council is failing its local business community. I’d like a point of contact at the Council like an economic development sub-committee hosted by council, with small and medium sized businesses having their concerns heard.”

In response to O’Neill’s assertion the council isn’t doing enough, Hornsby’s Mayor Steve Russell said he was “quite surprised by that suggestion because Council has been doing an enormous amount over the last few years to increase business viability, particularly on the west side of Hornsby, where concerns from business owners were a significant factor in the redevelopment that is currently taking place.

“This includes relatively minor works like street tree planting, to a major rethink of planning laws that increased building heights to 20 storeys in places.

“A perfect example of Council’s pro-business attitude was Number 5, the pop-up Council created in Coronation Street. This gave a street front premises to small businesses that had previously operated from home, allowing business owners to find their feet as they tested their products on a broader market.

“Other improvements including the new footbridge, were specifically designed to bring more people with money to spend into Hornsby. Also the new master plan is currently being created with significant input from local businesses.

“Mr O’Neill raised concerns about change of use for business and retail premises. The current state government policy aims to remove red tape and covers a very extensive range of low impact changes which can be undertaken without Council’s consent, or as complying development that can be signed off by a private certifier.

“We’re happy to meet with Mr O’Neill and the Hornsby Chamber of Commerce to discuss any possible improvements to this policy.”

State MP Matt Kean says he doesn’t believe NSW is in for a rough economic ride: “The NSW economy continues to outperform the rest of the nation with the lowest unemployment rate of any state for more than a year and more job creation over the last 12 months than all other states combined.

“That doesn’t mean we can rest on a laurels. We need to continue to create the environment where business can thrive by reducing unfair taxes and unnecessary regulation. I will work with all levels of Government to ensure this happens.”

Julian Leeser, Federal MP for Berowra said: “There are a significant number of small and medium businesses in our local area, doing their best to grow and employ local people.  It’s critical that we let them focus on growing their operations rather than dealing with government regulation.

“The Coalition Government has implemented ‘one stop shop’ initiatives, such as, to make it simpler for business to navigate the regulatory system across all levels of government. I’m very happy to work with my local and state colleagues and the Hornsby Chamber of Commerce about a similar joint approach to cutting red tape for local business.”

Sasha Alexander remains sceptical. He owns the Rustic Plate restaurant in Hornsby’s centre, and waited five months for his liquor license from the NSW Government. He’s now braced for an equally long wait for electric signage out the front, from council. “And I waited six months for council to approve my DA while I was paying rent on closed premises.  Council needs to work together with the state to help business. You add a chair or you move a table and you need council’s OK. There are too many rules and regulations.”

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