Cartoon: Michael Lynch

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By Andrew Woodhouse

“ZZZ… ZZZ …”

“Andrew! Wake up!’

“What? It’s 3:00 am!”

“But it’s time to go shopping

“Are you mad?  This is silly.”

This scenario could be coming to you if the City of Sydney Council has its way.

It has approved a trial of ultra-late shopping hours after a survey was recently undertaken.

The proposal is to change trading across an area stretching from Darling Harbour to Hyde Park, and south to Central station. It comes as businesses continue to raise the issue of light rail construction in Sydney’s CBD. The extended trading hours would not have any impact on the NSW government’s 1.30am lockout laws currently applying to pubs and clubs across Sydney’s CBD. It would, however, apply to Llankelly Place in Kings Cross increasing hours to 2am.

Council’s Transport, Heritage and Planning Committee discussed the idea at its meeting on Monday 12th November at the highly “convenient” time of 2:03pm, producing a magnum opus of 314 pages of material.

Council’s background notes state the idea is to “balance the needs of those who want to go out, those who want to do business at night and those who want a quiet night at home. The DCP includes innovative planning controls such as trial periods, later trading for lower risk premises such as small bars and late night precincts that reflected the character and activity of the area.”  Is this balancing act really possible?

Importantly, they also note: ”The Police have raised the impact of increased late night trading hours or expanded areas on their ability to respond to incidents and manage community safety. They are also concerned about the increased risk of crime that may result from the extension of late night trading hours.”

Yet council still ploughs ahead. I blame council if someone gets hurt.

Only 338 businesses were consulted, hardly an indicative and reliable survey.

There seems to have been no study of landowning ratepayers.

In cosmopolitan Kings Cross only 51 people were consulted with the overwhelming response being “Kings Cross has improved with the lockouts and less violence,” if this is relevant.

Concern was expressed about increased noise impacts.

No “before and after” decibel measurements or acoustic studies are being provided, a convenient truth.

However, the new policy is not welcomed by everyone. Residents are cringing at thought of businesses opening under their bedroom windows creating unwanted noise. Emeritus Professor David Rowe thinks that after-hours opening hours should also consider opening libraries, galleries and other cultural activities, not just drinking and eating places so the city is open to everyone, including families. This may or may not happen.

Extra staffing costs would add to retail running costs without any guarantee that potential buyers would come out on regular nights, especially if they are working the next morning.

The scheme might only create retail fatigue and work drowsiness.

Council hopes government facilities would also open, but why would they? This is admittedly only a “hope” and may not happen.

And council’s idea relies only other government agencies to co-operate by providing public transport, which could become a handy shift-blaming loop hole if the trial fails. This transport point is “critical to city safety” says Phillip Wadda, University of New South Wales criminologist.

The scheme may create more problems than benefits.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore is adamant  her thought bubble is worth trying proclaiming claiming “the proposed changes to late-night trading were in response to “overwhelming” public feedback in favour of a diverse and exciting night-time economy”. That may be so however, local retailers in Glebe are reported as saying they have never called for extended hours and wouldn’t be able to utilise them.

“It wouldn’t be feasible for us to be open at 2am in the morning. We’d have to have minimum staffing on, just to be able to open the doors,” Alan Abbey, the manager of York Street bookshop Abbey’s Books, is reported as saying.

“In theory it sounds attractive, but shopping at 2 or 3 am in the morning is not optimal book-shopping time for people.”

City of Sydney councillor, founder of the Small Business Party, George Street light rail opponent and state government election candidate, Angela Vithoulkas, has said she doesn’t think the scheme is based on the reality of what these types of businesses are and what they serve. She is quoted as saying that “It’s very difficult to ask a hairdresser to stay open from midnight to 5am. Why would they?”

City Hub has asked what KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, apply to this scheme to measure the trial’s “success” but no response was provided.

However, on 19th November, 2018, council decided unanimously not to adopt its original planning staff recommendation but amended it to allow for a further 28-day exhibition period. Council’s on-line website says council will accept submissions until Friday 8th February, 2019.

Interestingly, in the UK a new Minister for Loneliness has been appointed. I might expect council to appoint a professional gaggle of highly paid experts to form a silliness panel to consider further such projects.