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?