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Newton getting its time in the sun with ‘action plan’ coming this month

City of Surrey’s Focus Newton Action Plan expected to be ready in March
Surrey’s Vaisakhi annual parade in Newton is the largest such parade in the world, with typically half a million people attending every year. (File photo: Crystal Scuor)

Newton is a Jupiter of communities not only in Surrey, but British Columbia.

“The population of Newton is bigger than that of most cities in Metro Vancouver. There’s only a few actual cities larger than Newton. Newton is a city within a city,” Coun. Harry Bains, chairman of the city’s Focus Newton Task Force, observed.

Surrey Mayor Brenda Locke set up the task force in February 2023 with Bains as its chairman and councillors Pardeep Kooner, Doug Elford and Mandeep Nagra also serving, with the aim of improving daily life in the city-sized town centre.

“One of the things not only did we observe but one of the things we’ve heard a lot about is that Newton isn’t taken care of, that there is messy streets, some of the streets aren’t curbed properly, there are lack of crosswalks, some of the businesses’ signs abuse the sign bylaw, just a myriad of things,” Locke told the Now-Leader at the time. “We just want to improve the look and the feel of Newton. It’s the biggest, most populated anyway, community and we want it to look great and feel great and we want the parks there to be kept nice and proper like all parks should.”

An open house on Thursday Feb. 29, at the Newton Senior’s Centre, marked a milestone as roughly 30 attended over two hours a final public engagement event in a process that began in June 2023.

“We received a lot of good feedback that we’re going to incorporate into our final action plan which we hope to see in the next month or two,” Bains said. A preliminary action plan was discussed, the methodology of the draft plan, and Newton’s unique position in Surrey as a whole. The feedback received shaped five strategic focus areas: creating a vibrant and green community; increasing safety and cleanliness in public places; increasing programs and events to bring the community together and make it more vibrant; public spaces and amenities; and “active” transportation.

Bains said the Focus Newton Action Plan is expected to be completed in March. Council will then be presented with the plan in April and be asked to endorse it, with financial considerations to be considered during the city’s 2024 budget consultation process.

Harry Bains, Surrey city councillor. (Submitted photo)

“We don’t want this driven by city hall,” Bains told the Now-Leader. “This is a project for Newton driven by Newton. We wanted the Newton residents and businesses and people who live and work here, we wanted them to tell us what is needed. It’s interesting, I think this is the first time any council has done anything like this, where we created a plan for a specific town centre, dictated and driven by that town centre.

“So it’s really exciting and I hope something we can replicate in the future with other town centres in Surrey because we’ve learned a lot. City wide policies are great, but the city wide policy doesn’t affect each town centre equally so by going into one specific one, looking at their day-to-day problems, we’re able to create a plan that might be different from, say, Fleetwood or Guildford or City Centre,” Bains added.

“We tried to engage every single resident of Newton so we actually sent out postcards and we contacted every single household in Newton. We had over 2,119 engaged residents who either attended one of our four pop-up events or they connected with us through phone or email or they completed surveys that we had.”

All told, he said, 42,421 residents visited the project website, received a postcard or engaged the City of Surrey through social media.

Some top-of-mind priorities for people, according to information received by the city, include a desire for more greenery and landscaping in parks, more food trucks at events, and more greenery and landscaping along streets and sidewalks. Moreover, two-thirds of respondents don’t consider Newton to be clean and are mostly concerned about illegal dumping, litter on streets and sidewalks, unsightly private property, graffiti and tagging, and vandalism.

The project coincides with half a dozen ongoing capital projects, including the Newton Community Centre new facility, Bear Creek Park stadium facility upgrades, Kabaddi Park facility upgrades, Newton Athletic Park facilities upgrades, the Unwin Community Park master plan, and rebuilding Strawberry Hill Hall.

READ ALSO: Surrey mayor launches Focus Newton Task Force

READ ALSO: Surrey buying 16 properties in Newton for parkland, civic amenities

In October 2020 council, under former mayor Doug McCallum, unanimously authorized city staff to purchase 16 adjacent parcels of land in Newton for future parkland, road alignment and civic projects. This involved 7.24 acres, part of which embraces the former site of a Rona store at 6965 King George Blvd. In January 2021 that same council unanimously decided to borrow $150.6 million for three major community projects although some councillors expressed trepidation about the city taking on so much debt.

The council authorized in January 2021 the borrowing, through the Municipal Finance Authority of British Columbia, of $40 million to construct a sports complex in the city centre, $20.6 million to build a sports and ice complex in Cloverdale and $90 million to construct a community centre in Newton.

Then in January 2023, the Newton Business Improvement Association issued a press release calling on city officials to “re-imagine” the future 75,000 square-foot Newton Community Centre, which at the time was expected to be open to the public by the end of 2024 though construction has not commenced.

Philip Aguirre, executive director of BIA, questioned why that site was chosen seeing as the community’s the area’s “civic core” is on the other side of King George Boulevard, with a wave pool, transit hub, Newton Arena, seniors centre and library, making for “multiple redundant components.”

This past Friday, March 1, Bains confirmed that the community centre is a “priority for us, we want that recreation centre built. It’s so important for the community.”

However, he added, the “difficult spot” the city finds itself in is that “it’s one thing to make an announcement for the recreation centre and it’s an entirely different thing to actually have the financial means to build it and to actually have a place where we can build that expediently and so council is looking at options on how to get it built without having to break it up into smaller pieces. We’re considering all options.”

Speaking to the previous council’s assignment of the first phase of the project, Bains noted that with the rising cost of construction, “if we build phase one today, phase two will be 10 times more expensive down the line so we as a city have to look at creating these public amenities sooner rather than later because we’re not going to get any cheaper for us to build.”

So, the city is looking at different ways to get the community centre “up as a complete project as fast as possible. Now if that takes an additional few months of planning and consideration, I think that’s a small investment in the overall savings we’ll have over time,” Bains said. For the time being, the site remains “a lot with a sign on it.

“There’s a lot of backroom planning going on it right now, it’s a project that’s being reconsidered not in the sense of are we going to build it, it’s how can we build it faster and how can we build it all in one shot.”

Meantime, during Locke’s first State of the City Address, on Feb. 15, she revealed that Surrey is looking to build a 12,000-seat arena/stadium and while the preferred location is currently near Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre and BC Lions’ practice field in the city centre, a feasibility study will also consider sites in Cloverdale and Newton.

Bains told the Now-Leader that while Newton is “clearly one of the areas being looked at” he cannot divulge the Newton locations.

“I’m not able to comment on that,” he said.

Asked if the former Rona site, where the Newton Community Centre is expected to be built, is one of the sites being considered for this arena/stadium project, Bains replied “not as far as I’m aware, no.”

“To build a stadium you’d have to have a unique site, it would have to be of a certain size, and it would have to be along certain transporation corridors I would assume, to make it successful. Newton’s in need of transit. We need that BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), and eventually we need that SkyTrain line right up King George Highway in order to support any type of infrastructure like a stadium. I mean, the residents of Newton currently are in gridlock often so prior to any sort of consideration for any large-scale capital infrastructure like a stadium, I think we need to focus on transit before we ever get there.”

That said, he added, Newton contains roughly 30 per cent of Surrey’s population and is “a place where you are going to see some nice public amenities in the future.

“Whether this stadium comes or not, I mean that’s also under discussion. There were a few communities that Mayor Locke mentioned and they were Newton Cloverdale and the City Centre area in Surrey and everything is being looked at now, how likely any one of them or the other, that’s still up in the air. But it’s still being considered.”

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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