23 March 2023

Are Entertainment Precincts on the way to support Canberra's night-time recreation?

| Morgan Kenyon
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crowd under lights

Entertainment Precincts are usually set in an inner city, town centre, across established suburban hotel and venue precincts, and on festival grounds. Photo: Daniel Ballantyne.

Canberra’s night-time entertainment scene has a history of organic growth. Having produced successful artists such as Peking Duk, Hands Like Houses, SAFIA and Genesis Owusu, the local music sector continues to show great promise.

What the ACT lacks, though, is a designated Entertainment Precinct (EP) supported by clear laws to outline standards for sound control.

Local non-profit organisation MusicACT has campaigned for the development of dedicated EPs in Canberra for over a decade. Director Daniel Ballantyne says Canberra is falling behind compared to other major cities around the country.

“EP legislation is almost universally available across jurisdictions in Australia,” he says.

“This will be the first implementation in the ACT – certainly from a live music venue point of view.

“MusicACT has a significant membership of these venues in the city centre who are excited at the prospect of a dedicated EP.”

The ACT’s Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate recognises that EP laws will support a positive night-time economy and that developing them will sustain continued growth. In their 2019 Entertainment Action Plan, the Directorate outlines steps that must be realised to fully establish EP legislation in the city.

READ MORE Complaints of a few dampen musicians from rocking the suburbs

“Noise is part of city living; it’s the trade-off for being close to where you can work and play. As more people choose to live in our city centres, the ACT Government is considering how we balance a liveable city with one that delivers a vibrant and diverse night-time economy,” the Directorate states.

MusicACT supports the plan but wants faster action.

“It’s evident from the ACT Government’s draft city plan and the Labor and Greens parliamentary agreement that Canberra will get an EP,” Mr Ballantyne says.

“The ACT Government committed $250,000 to develop the technical measures required for city centre EP, but needs much more to move ahead with confidence. This commitment needs to be more than just lines on a map.”

pink protest truck

MusicACT has campaigned alongside Canberran live-music lovers for over a decade. Photo: Lachlan Roberts.

The ACT currently has a series of prescribed noise limits at certain times of the day that start from as low as 35dB in residential areas. Residents are able to complain when they feel noise levels are too loud, but there are no concrete systems to measure sound levels at the time of the complaint.

Mr Ballantyne says established Australian EPs continuously monitor sound levels to combat this challenge.

“When there is a complaint about a particular venue or area, regulators have more to go on than the complaint itself,” he says.

“It also improves compliance – venues do the right thing because they know their record can be accessed.”

READ ALSO EPIC plan for a revitalised entertainment precinct

EPs present an opportunity to grow Canberra’s music and entertainment industry while protecting the liveability of residential areas.

To implement them, planning must take a range of factors into consideration, according to Mr Ballantyne.

“Liquor licensing and operation hours need to be looked at closely,” he says.

“It is also crucial to place responsibility on new developments to install noise insulation that reflects a lively night-time economy.”

Mr Ballantime says EP legislation and the areas it aims to develop will support the creation of new businesses and sustain the efforts of those already established.

“Breaking into the entertainment scene and staying there is one of the hardest ventures for Canberran business owners to succeed in,” he says.

“To declare an EP sends a clear message to entertainment venues that we want them to operate and grow successfully.

“This extends to the biggest music business in Canberra – festivals. It’s critical that we protect our two principal festival grounds, Commonwealth Park and EPIC.”

Photograph shows RL Grime's performance at Spilt Milk 2018

Spilt Milk is a hit annual festival traditionally held at Commonwealth Park. Photo: Jordan Munns.

Mr Ballantyne says EPs will help define the kind of social, cultural, and economic community that Canberrans wants to live in and support population growth.

“Canberra has built its base on government, construction and education services. A vibrant night-time economy will support that foundation and attract more people to live and work here,” he says.

For more information and updates on the development of Canberra’s EP legislation, visit Your Say City Plan.

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The EP will be in Hume and the city will still be without a soul.

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