BY ALEX EUGENE
A proposed backpackers’ hostel for Oxford Street in Darlinghurst has locals worried their area would be destroyed by noise and all-night disturbances.
The City of Sydney received an application from a company identified only as “Nukotel” to open the new business on level two of 38-46 Oxford Street, which is near the Oxford Arts Factory venue.
The application, which was on public exhibition until this week, outlines that the hostel would house up to 100 visitors in “capsule” beds.
Jane Anderson, a resident and member of East Sydney Neighbourhood Association, says it would only bring problems to the area.
“It’s sort of like a battery hen setup with 100 beds that are capsules, all crowded in together. There’s no windows or natural light at all.
“One of the scariest things is that it’s in a building that the applicant acknowledges is not meeting fire regulations,” said Ms. Anderson, who pored over the application in detail during the exhibition period.
“It just does not add anything to the area. It’s not a positive addition,” she said.
But local businesses and the council have been uniting for several years now to try and revitalize Oxford Street, which has seen a steady decline in visitors and patronage ever since the controversial Lockout Laws were introduced by the State Liberal Government in 2014.
The Darlinghurst Business Partnership (DBP), a group who work together to promote and advocate for the revitalization of the area, reported on their website that there had been a 31% drop in annual business turnover since the lockout laws.
They also surveyed over 200 businesses in 2015, and concluded that confidence in the business community was “at rock bottom – only 50% of businesses surveyed expected to be still operating in the next 12 months.”
Stephan Gyory, President of the DBP and co-owner of The Record Store on Crown Street said that “Any well-run business should not pose an issue for residents, and the business will have to abide by standard noise restrictions.
“Oxford Street is also an official late Night Trading Area under the Local Environment Plan and has had night life for generations, so one would think that residents who live in the area would (one), have either moved here because of the hustle and bustle or (two), they should not have moved here in the first place. I say this as someone who lives immediately next door to a hostel in Potts Point.”
Mr. Gyory said any business attracting tourists to Oxford Street would “fit right in.”
Woollahra Council and the Paddington Business Partnership have also joined forces to create the “Activate Oxford St Project Objective,” touted as an effort to “implement projects and ideas that will help promote Oxford Street as one of Sydney’s most eclectic and vibrant destinations.”
The project was planned through extensive community consultation and input from village planning experts Village Well. The group’s website reported that it wanted to increase visitation to the area extensively over the next ten years.
A report prepared by Activate Oxford Street identified “neighborhood intensification” as a key objective for the plan, stating, “An increase in the number and diversity of housing types within the area would ultimately provide critical mass locally, helping to support the village both economically and socially.”
The Plan of Management submitted by Nukotel in its application says there would be a noise and nuisance register “with the view to reduce any impacts resulting from the operation of the premises.” Guests would also be limited to a maximum stay of 28 days.
A Statement of Environmental Effects was also prepared for Nukotel by town planners, Sutherland and Associates, which stated that the building falls within a zone that allows for tourist and visitor accommodation.
Under the Sydney Local Environment Plan 2012, any business in the zone must “provide a range of retail, business, entertainment and community uses that serve the needs of people who live in, work in and visit the local area…[and] allow appropriate residential uses so as to support the vitality of local centres.”
The local government regulation also states that the zone should encourage employment opportunities and maximise the use of public transport, walking and cycling.
The DBP said on its website that one of the reasons Oxford Street lacked visitors was “lack of awareness, because Sydney is addicted to promoting that which need not be promoted, you know, bridges, beaches ‘n’ stuff like that, while ignoring all the great, micro-cultures that live just outside the concrete jungle.”
Sutherland and Associates concluded in its Environment Effects report that:
“The proposed development provides for visitor and tourist accommodation which is a permissible use within the zone and is compatible with the surrounding land uses. The location of the site includes an eclectic mixture of commercial, retail, entertainment and residential uses and the proposed backpackers accommodation provides temporary and affordable accommodation for visitors who wish to make use of the surrounding facilities and businesses.”
But Jane Anderson said there were better ways of revitalizing the area.
“We all want to see Oxford Street thrive, but I don’t think this would be the way to go about it.
“Office spaces provide good customers for the Oxford Street outlets through the day. They have minimum negative impacts and maximum benefits.
“I’d be extremely disappointed and surprised if council approved its use,” she said.
None of the City of Sydney Councillors were permitted to comment due to regulations surrounding pending applications.
However, Councillor Craig Chung told City Hub that he “will consider all aspects of any DA that comes before Council to ensure we get the best outcome for the whole community.”