Arts & Entertainment

Grand Reopening?

Photo: Nic Walker

As tourists and locals alike flock to the inner city to take in the delights of Vivid Sydney’s night economy appears to be vibrant and thriving. However, come into the city at any other time of year and you realise that this is actually far from the case. In order to reinvigorate the late night economy both the New South Wales Government and the City Of Sydney Council are making changes and plans for the future.

At the State level, the government has announced a panel which will review the impact and potential alternatives to the lockout laws which were introduced in 2014. On the local council level, the City Of Sydney unanimously voted in favour of a complete overhaul of their late night planning rules. Given these two significant steps, the City Hub spoke with Tyson Koh of Keep Sydney Open and City Of Sydney Councillor Jess Scully to gain a greater insight into their vision for Sydney’s future.

When speaking with both Scully it became obvious that the impact of the lockout laws has been felt by more than just the major nightclub venues. These laws have had a trickle-down impact on the overall economy as well as the culture and opinion of the city on a global stage.

“A lot has changed since the lockouts were introduced in 2014,” explained Scully, “Those laws had a really oversized impact on the city, even outside of the lockout zones. They’ve made it it very hard for late night business, music venues and performance venues to operate but they’ve also contributed to a perception that Sydney has a failing nightlife.”

This was a sentiment which Koh echoed and substantiated with monetary figures.

“A State government report by Deloitte found that the State is losing out on $16 billion worth of revenue because of the neglect shown towards the late night economy. The laws have also come with job losses, particularly for young people, and have also seen Sydney’s standing on the world stage suffer.”

The City Of Sydney has proposed a drastic overhaul to their late night planning rules. With the introduction of these altered rules shops, eateries and other unlicensed businesses within the city will be allowed to trade 24 hours a day. For small licensed venues with a capacity below 120 patrons trading would be extended to 2am.

These plans have been developed through community consultation, which began in March 2018 and saw over 10,000 responses. According to Councillor Scully, the hope is that these changes will open Sydney up to a “more diverse nightlife” and also reflect the changing nature of the City’s late night economy.

“What we’re trying to do is reflect the reality of where nightlife is happening today whilst also accommodating future nightlife opportunities,” said Councillor Scully.

Whilst these changes on the local government level should have a significant impact on the overall strength of Sydney’s late night economy will remain stilted as long as the lockout laws are in place. The announced review process, however, has been pleasant news to the team at Keep Sydney Open said Koh.

“It’s great to finally see some movement. However, we’re remaining cautiously optimistic because we’ve been through a review process before which left us bitterly disappointed with the outcome.”

From the very first moments, the lockout laws were introduced Keep Sydney Open has been one of the most vocally outspoken groups. In recent months though they have seen other conservative political parties, such as the Shooters & Fishers Party, the Green and even Mark Latham of One Nation, join the outcry against lockout laws.

Should the upcoming review process recommend changes are made to the lockout laws both Keep Sydney Open and Councillor Scully know this won’t be a “magic bullet” to restore the late night economy. In order to see Sydney’s late night economy once again thrive more complementary steps will need to be taken.

Keep Sydney Open would like to see the State government take a step to fund and foster late-night art and culture. 

“The lockouts have diminished our confidence as a 24-hour city and by removing them it will go a long way towards removing that psychological cloud over the city. However, the damage that has been done has been so deep and severe at the hands of the government they need to actively support culture from the top.”

For Councillor Scully collaboration between the two levels of government and regulation will be crucial, especially in regards to late night transport options.

“Places like Kings Cross and Darlinghurst would have a totally different audience and nightlife if there was a 24-hour transport offering.”

Sydney’s late night economy will have a better understanding of its fate come September 30 when the lockout law review committee reports to parliament. 

Until then we wait.