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Strict safety regulations no good for creative businesses, says The Hamlet owner Nik Bulum

By Amy Birchall - 24 November 2014 17

A photo posted to Facebook last week shows officials at The Hamlet as they prevent the venue from hosting a student exhibition on site.

Entrepreneur and property developer Nik Bulum has called on the ACT Government to relax building safety restrictions, claiming that overly strict regulations are impacting creative businesses.

Nik is the founder of The Hamlet, an urban village of designers, food trucks and a free gallery scheduled to open on Lonsdale Street in Braddon in early December.

He had planned to host a student exhibition at the renovated garage site last Thursday (20 November 2014), but says he was told just hours before the event that the building was not safe for hosting an event of that nature.

“Five hours before the exhibition was due to open, ACTPLA, WorkCover and three or four police arrived on site and told us that we couldn’t hold the event because it was unsafe,” Nik explains.

“They claimed there was asbestos on site, and I said we had that removed. Then they said that we didn’t have a certificate of occupancy, and I told them that we did, they tried to say that we were serving alcohol on site, which also wasn’t true. It seemed as though they couldn’t make their minds up about why it wasn’t safe; they just didn’t want us there.”

The exhibition was relocated to another location on Lonsdale Street, and while Nik says that it was a successful evening, he is concerned that Canberra’s creative community is being limited by what he describes as “unnecessary restrictions”.

“We were just having an exhibition and were treated terribly. All we wanted to do was run a successful event to benefit students and help the street to come alive. Isn’t that what everyone wants?”

The Hamlet is not the first Braddon venue to come under fire from the ACT Planning and Land Authority in recent months. Crowd-funded arts and music venue the Chop Shop was left in limbo earlier this year after it was issued a stop work notice over fire safety concerns. Nik still expects The Hamlet to open on schedule.

“They say that people have to follow the rules, which is fine, but the rules that they have at the moment don’t let people be creative. I’m all for making sure that people are safe, but we need more consultation and collaboration with retailers and business owners to find a reasonable middle ground,” Nik says.

He also says it is disappointing that retailers are held to strict safety standards while areas of Lonsdale Street that the government is responsible for maintaining are in poor condition.

“Business owners pay rates, and so they expect that the areas around their businesses will be maintained. But on Lonsdale Street, there are no bins, the footpaths are cracked and uneven and the verges aren’t safe. Anyone could trip and fall.”

(Photo: A photo posted by Nik Bulum on Facebook last week shows officials at The Hamlet as they prevent the venue from hosting a student exhibition on site.)

There’s a fine line between ensuring that people are safe and allowing businesses to be creative when it comes to marketing and selling their products. Are Canberra’s building restrictions too strict? 

What’s Your opinion?


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17 Responses to
Strict safety regulations no good for creative businesses, says The Hamlet owner Nik Bulum
Masquara 8:08 pm 24 Nov 14

Frogfarinelli said :

Masquara said :

Let’s not go back to the days when the arts were regarded as exempt from basic OHS – witness Canberra School of Art’s complete lack of safety standards until the early 1990s, if not after. You can be creative and follow safety requirements. If you can’t: adjust your project.

there was nothing unsafe and it was an exhibition not a project in a warehouse space and outdoor area.

You’re saying there was nothing unsafe … ACT Govt says otherwise. Frankly, if there’s a difference of opinion on that, safer to err on the side of caution. Sorry.

Breadcrumb 8:06 pm 24 Nov 14

Breadcrumb said :

This makes my blood boil.

Of course, safety is paramount and should never be compromised. But more often than not, I feel like these pop-up initiatives and ventures that are not Government backed are stifled by excessive safety concerns (excessive being the key word) because they do not fit in line with city planning and it’s a tool to stop these spontaneous projects from development that will draw people away from the grander vision that may be intended.

Take a look at The Chop Shop (and now more recently The Hamlet), speak with those proponents about the difficulties in getting that independent, spontaneous – short term project off the ground. Then speak with the proponents of the Government backed West Basin shipping container pop-up and their tale will most certainly have a different tone of smooth sailing……………. just sayin.

dungfungus said :

What pops up crashes down.
That Port Botany replica adjacent to the futsal slab looks very dodgy.
But then if it’s backed by the Canberra oligarchy it’s automatically vibrant and cool.
Does it have bicycle racks?

Agreed Dungfungus, I’m not sure if it has bicycle racks, but it’s one of the most contrived, forced initiatives out there so far that reeks of city planning to raise land value in that particular area. How is stacking shipping containers stories off the ground any more safe than occupying a ground level open warehouse with solid foundations that has had renovation work completed to bring it up to standard? I feel concessions were most probably made because it’s a Government backed initiative.

I just hope that the $1mil or so that the Government poured into the shipping container initiative filters down to the end user being these so called small businesses. People should be asking, was there a tender/consultation process for this development? Could the money have been better spent to incubate pop-ups / creative small business in existing abandoned spaces? Is the Government doing anything to help the existing small businesses in the immediate lake area (ie – the paddle boat hire)?

Let the gentrification begin!

Frogfarinelli 7:55 pm 24 Nov 14

Planning_ACTGovernment said :

This issue came to light came to light with the Environment and Planning Directorate following an application by the owner to the Office of Regulatory Services for a liquor license for this site. Site inspections by different ACT Government agencies identified both individually and collectively a number of safety related issues at the site.

The number one priority of the Government remains the safety of the community at venues across Canberra.

The Construction Occupations Registrar has, and will continue to, liaise with the owners of the site, the University of Canberra and the other ACT Government agencies involved in this matter particularly ACT Fire and Rescue, WorkSafe and the Office of Regulatory Services to ensure a positive outcome for all parties.

The Directorate is supportive of the creative reuse of sites in Braddon and in other sites across the ACT. In fact, the National Construction Code which applies to every building in Australia is a performance based code which enables a level of creativity to be applied professionally for the safe reuse of existing buildings.

Your information is slightly incorrect and i am happy to meet and discuss with you what happened. The owner did not at no time apply for a liquor license this is false. But i am glad you are willing to support these projects and maybe also apply the safety practices that you say you are all for keeping the public safe to the verges you have control off.

Frogfarinelli 7:44 pm 24 Nov 14

Masquara said :

Let’s not go back to the days when the arts were regarded as exempt from basic OHS – witness Canberra School of Art’s complete lack of safety standards until the early 1990s, if not after. You can be creative and follow safety requirements. If you can’t: adjust your project.

there was nothing unsafe and it was an exhibition not a project in a warehouse space and outdoor area.

housebound 7:03 pm 24 Nov 14

alans said :

Safety standards in Australia is what stands between us and building collapses that occur on a regular basis in nations like China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc. Building collapses that all to often take large numbers of human life. Business does not have the right granted to it to cut corners just because “insert irrelevant argument here”. There is no other consideration, whether it be cost, or the daginess of Lonsdale Street which ought overcome safety protections.

So is the rule of law. Is it too much to ask for that too?

Masquara 6:57 pm 24 Nov 14

Let’s not go back to the days when the arts were regarded as exempt from basic OHS – witness Canberra School of Art’s complete lack of safety standards until the early 1990s, if not after. You can be creative and follow safety requirements. If you can’t: adjust your project.

dungfungus 5:39 pm 24 Nov 14

Breadcrumb said :

This makes my blood boil.

Of course, safety is paramount and should never be compromised. But more often than not, I feel like these pop-up initiatives and ventures that are not Government backed are stifled by excessive safety concerns (excessive being the key word) because they do not fit in line with city planning and it’s a tool to stop these spontaneous projects from development that will draw people away from the grander vision that may be intended.

Take a look at The Chop Shop (and now more recently The Hamlet), speak with those proponents about the difficulties in getting that independent, spontaneous – short term project off the ground. Then speak with the proponents of the Government backed West Basin shipping container pop-up and their tale will most certainly have a different tone of smooth sailing……………. just sayin.

What pops up crashes down.
That Port Botany replica adjacent to the futsal slab looks very dodgy.
But then if it’s backed by the Canberra oligarchy it’s automatically vibrant and cool.
Does it have bicycle racks?

Planning_ACTGovernme 4:51 pm 24 Nov 14

This issue came to light came to light with the Environment and Planning Directorate following an application by the owner to the Office of Regulatory Services for a liquor license for this site. Site inspections by different ACT Government agencies identified both individually and collectively a number of safety related issues at the site.

The number one priority of the Government remains the safety of the community at venues across Canberra.

The Construction Occupations Registrar has, and will continue to, liaise with the owners of the site, the University of Canberra and the other ACT Government agencies involved in this matter particularly ACT Fire and Rescue, WorkSafe and the Office of Regulatory Services to ensure a positive outcome for all parties.

The Directorate is supportive of the creative reuse of sites in Braddon and in other sites across the ACT. In fact, the National Construction Code which applies to every building in Australia is a performance based code which enables a level of creativity to be applied professionally for the safe reuse of existing buildings.

Frogfarinelli 4:39 pm 24 Nov 14

alans said :

Safety standards in Australia is what stands between us and building collapses that occur on a regular basis in nations like China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc. Building collapses that all to often take large numbers of human life. Business does not have the right granted to it to cut corners just because “insert irrelevant argument here”. There is no other consideration, whether it be cost, or the daginess of Lonsdale Street which ought overcome safety protections.

hmmm slightly over the top and did you read in the article about the safety to the verges and trip hazards? lets apply them to the street and supply bins and even walk ways since rates are being collected.

Frogfarinelli 4:37 pm 24 Nov 14

support the locals and help them push these excessive boundaries . safety is important but we cannot pad the whole world. Lonsdale st is an example of how a bunch of people are pushing this city into being a city rather then a dull gov city its always been labelled by everyone around the country and internationally. Having an exhibition in an open warehouse never killed anybody.

Breadcrumb 4:05 pm 24 Nov 14

This makes my blood boil.

Of course, safety is paramount and should never be compromised. But more often than not, I feel like these pop-up initiatives and ventures that are not Government backed are stifled by excessive safety concerns (excessive being the key word) because they do not fit in line with city planning and it’s a tool to stop these spontaneous projects from development that will draw people away from the grander vision that may be intended.

Take a look at The Chop Shop (and now more recently The Hamlet), speak with those proponents about the difficulties in getting that independent, spontaneous – short term project off the ground. Then speak with the proponents of the Government backed West Basin shipping container pop-up and their tale will most certainly have a different tone of smooth sailing……………. just sayin.

pierce 3:22 pm 24 Nov 14

It would have been nice to hear from the other side of the story

alans 3:00 pm 24 Nov 14

Safety standards in Australia is what stands between us and building collapses that occur on a regular basis in nations like China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, etc. Building collapses that all to often take large numbers of human life. Business does not have the right granted to it to cut corners just because “insert irrelevant argument here”. There is no other consideration, whether it be cost, or the daginess of Lonsdale Street which ought overcome safety protections.

HenryBG 10:27 am 24 Nov 14

Grail said :

Two things:

First, this story isn’t about unnecessary safety regulations, it is about harassment using bogus enforcement of those regulations. If Nic’s side of the story has any truth to it at all, this incident deserves a lot more attention.

Second, once the TPP is signed, all Nic will need to do is register his business in the USA and sue the government when regulations interfere with his business operations.

Nice one.

Grail 9:55 am 24 Nov 14

Two things:

First, this story isn’t about unnecessary safety regulations, it is about harassment using bogus enforcement of those regulations. If Nic’s side of the story has any truth to it at all, this incident deserves a lot more attention.

Second, once the TPP is signed, all Nic will need to do is register his business in the USA and sue the government when regulations interfere with his business operations.

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