Shonen Knife, Oxford Art Factory, Darlinghurst. Photo: Alec Smart

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BY ALEX EUGENE

New businesses, including residential developments, will be responsible for planning modifications to assist with noise management, if a proposed ‘Agent of Change’ regulation is accepted by City of Sydney Council.

A recommendation will be made for the council to add the regulation to the City’s Night Time Economy policy at its next meeting. Labor Councillor Linda Scott first moved a motion to introduce the change in her first council term, and has been an advocate of local live music for many years.
“As a Labor Councillor, I welcome the adoption of Labor’s initiative to provide more support for live music in our City,” said Cr Scott. “I am proud to be part of the first local council in NSW to implement agent of change laws to protect our City’s vibrant nightlife.”

The need to address tyrannical noise policies has been a running debate for some time. Many venues around Sydney have publicly lamented the difficulty of keeping their businesses healthy amid regular complaints, which forced some to reduce their volumes to unworkable levels.

Daniel Robertson, a joint owner of Playbar, Surry Hills, told Tone Deaf that at one stage “the music was turned down to a level that the senator, not the inspectors, deemed acceptable, leaving people’s voices too loud” after repeated complaints from a local senator’s office were filed against them.
At the time, council inspectors were allegedly regularly visiting Playbar, insisting that the volume be reduced, despite being in line with ‘approved council levels.’ Mr Robertson reported that his business had been severely affected by the constant enforcements.

But even as recently as June this year, the King Cross Hotel was forced to cancel a live band at just 9.30pm one night due to residential noise complaints. The band, which had only played four songs before being shut down, was as quoted saying ‘Sydney really is dying.’

Keep Sydney Open, an advocate group who have fought to protect the city’s vibrant nightlife ever since the 2014 Lockout Laws were introduced, have backed the proposed regulation with caution.
“It’s a positive step, and we welcome the council taking the lead on this. Agent of Change [regulations have] worked in other cities, but this document really reveals the limit of council power. We believe that the NSW State Government must seriously start thinking about how Sydney can be a thriving 24/7 international city, while increasing the density of residential areas across the city. It’s about getting the balance right,” said a spokesperson for the organisation.

Stephan Gyory of the Darlinghurst Business Partnership was also concerned that the change could present difficulties without other supports.
“Agent of Change on its own can make it harder to open new venues, and then there is the situation where a venue closes for some reason or other and we lose that capacity because the bar has actually been raised in terms of costs for opening a new venue to replace it,” he said.
Mr Gyory also said that opportunities for new entertainment businesses were shrinking because if a venue closed residential property developers were snapping up the vacant land, instead of the building lying dormant until a new venture came along.

Veteran nightclub the Midnight Shift has been one such casualty, closing its doors completely last month, after struggling to keep afloat with reduced operating hours earlier this year.

Cr Linda Scott was responsible for assisting the Harold Park Hotel in Glebe to reinstate live music, after it was ‘disallowed’ in January this year, due to a single noise complaint.
A recent APRA / AMCOS survey showed that that the impact of the current regulatory environment for live music venues, including noise regulations, was identified by stakeholders as the biggest barrier to operating a live music venue.

94% of City residents, visitors and venues surveyed also said that live music and performance is an essential aspect of Sydney’s identity as a cultural and creativity city.
The push to protect and strengthen the live music scene has also previously been supported by the Lord Mayor Clover Moore, Inner West Mayor Darcy Byrne, and the former politician and Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett.