19 August 2019

Entertainment precincts need to strike a balance for venues and residents

| Shane Rattenbury MLA
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Greens leader Shane Rattenbury speaking at the recent live music protest in Garema Place. Photo: R. Wakwella.

As more people choose an inner-city lifestyle, many of our city centres, as well as areas like Kingston and Braddon, are also becoming more residential.

Couple this with the new light rail corridor, expanded City bus interchange, convenient rideshare options like Uber and a transport network that now runs into the early hours of the morning, and Canberra’s nightlife—particularly in the city centre—is changing rapidly.

Yet where more local music venues, bars and pubs are sharing their turf with a growing number of local residents, this has increased the risk of conflict between the two groups.

Right now, live music venues and local businesses are rightly frustrated by current noise limits. In our town centres, noise limits are limited to between 50-80 decibels: around the same level of noise as a group conversation.

It might surprise some of us, but a complaint from a resident was able to effectively shut down a free weekly jazz session from 4-6pm at Parlour in New Acton. This, despite the New Acton precinct clearly being promoted as an entertainment-focused part of town.

Let Music Live protestors (including Greens MLA Carolyn le Couteur, with sign) were at the CMAG Activism exhibition launch. Photo: G Jacobs.

In parts of Braddon, local residents are also increasingly frustrated by late-night noise in apartments that aren’t being built with adequate soundproofing to account for the realities of life in the inner city.

What’s clear is that our current laws aren’t keeping up with this new reality. Canberra can learn from the experiences of other cities to ensure that we’re finding a balance that’s fair and practical for residents, live music venues and local businesses alike.

Nightlife is thriving in areas like Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, where entertainment precincts have been in place for more than a decade.

The local Council acknowledged the reality that inner-city areas and town centres by their nature, tend to be somewhat noisier than in quiet suburban areas. As a result, venues within the entertainment precinct could operate with higher noise levels than were allowed in the suburbs.

By ensuring that new residential development in the area was required to include a high level of noise insulation, this allows local inner-city residents to both enjoy the surrounding nightlife while getting a good night’s sleep at the end of it.

As a result, the Valley has now become a nationally and internationally recognised destination for live music. It’s proved so successful that the area has since been extended to include new and emerging nightlife. A new entertainment precinct is now set to get underway in other parts of Brisbane.

Canberra can learn a lot from the Brisbane experience. Like Brisbane, we can bring in ‘entertainment precincts’ to ensure we’re striking the right balance between the needs of live music venues, and those of local residents.

Precinct laws are effectively a negotiated deal where new residential developments will have to adhere to stricter noise insulation requirements.

The trade-off for existing residents is that local venues will be required to adhere to specific noise levels at different times. Where there’s a breach, the Government can step in to act.

We know that the earlier that we put in entertainment precincts, the better the outcome – for residents, local businesses, live music venues and Canberrans wanting to enjoy a night out.

The decisions we make now – to ensure apartments are adequately soundproofed and to improve our out-of-date planning laws – will make all the difference.

It’s been over ten years since the Greens first made the case for entertainment precincts in Canberra to make sure Canberra continues to become more vibrant.

We need to keep the pressure up on Government to make entertainment precincts a reality. If you care about keeping Canberra vibrant, please sign the open letter here to make your voice heard.

Shane Rattenbury MLA is a Member for Kurrajong and the ACT Greens leader.

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