Arts & Entertainment

City Of Sydney Silenced

Ash Grunwald - performing at Newtown Social Club April 15.

We’ve all heard or read about the pressures and hurdles the nightlife economy in our once vibrant city has faced since the introduction of the NSW State Government’s Lockout Laws. More recently however there has been yet another, more silent and lethal danger facing live music venues.

The City Of Sydney council’s noise and development regulations have seen two separate venues very recently announce they would be ceasing live music. The first of such announcements was the Harold Park Hotel, which was closely followed by Newtown Social Club.

In the case of the Harold Park Hotel, a venue with a tradition of complaint-free acoustic live music for the past seven and a half years, they were sent a warning letter which stated they would face a $6000 fine should a further complaint arise. For publican William Ryan, receiving a warning like this after just a single complaint has left a “bitter taste” in his mouth.

“I’ve been the sole operator here and not had a single complaint in my entire life. The thing that gets me is that someone new moves in and rather than coming to talk to me about the issue they’ve hid behind the anonymity of a council complaint,” said Mr Ryan, despondently.

Under the regulations of the Harold Park Hotel’s liquor and gaming licence the venue was well within their rights to have live music within the venue, but fell afoul of a recent change to a development consent under the council’s umbrella.

“Perhaps the biggest hurdle for a small operator like myself are acoustic reports, engineering reports and submissions to council to amend DA’s [which] often leave you with no change from $30,000. If you’re a big multi-venue then that might be an acceptable cost, but for a little player like me that’s not even a consideration,” explained Mr Ryan

Labor councillor Linda Scott says this is certainly not the first time a venue has been forced to either cease live music, or outright close down, as a result of council regulations.

“Since the Lord Mayor was elected we’ve seen a more than 60% decrease in the number of live music venues in the City of Sydney,” stated Scott.

Unfortunately one of our cities biggest supporters of live music, the Newtown Social Club, has announced that they too are set to join that long and growing list on April 23, citing regulations as a major factor in their decision.

“Whilst the live music part of the business was a resounding success, the current regulatory climate in Sydney and the inherent challenges therein have made it [running the business] unsustainable,” Newtown Social Club posted on their Facebook page.

The Labor Party and Linda Scott in particular have been staunch supporters of live music in Sydney, even taking the steps to draw up a live music action plan of 60 recommendations. Had even the first of these recommendations been implemented the situation with the Harold Park Hotel could have been prevented, according to Scott.

“The first recommendation is to protect areas with a longstanding tradition of live music in our planning agreements, but that has not been done and it means that places like the Harold Park Hotel can then have planning controls which prevent them from having live music. This is wrong, it should stop.”

Whilst the loss of a thriving night time economy and creative environment is devastating, perhaps the most immediate impact will be upon those dedicated and hardworking staff that make these venues and events run smoothly.

For Newtown Social Club it is these staff members that have become their major priority following the announced closure. “Our key focus right now is looking after our staff. They are truly amazing and we want to ensure that they are well looked after in the coming months,” said Music and Marketing Manager Sally Mather.

Despite all of this doom and gloom, Mr Ryan was quick to stress that the council is not the bad guy here and appears to be open to discussion to find a middle ground, on the individual case basis at least.

As such the Harold Park Hotel has been able to resurrect their Sunday Sessions by moving their music performance indoors with just a few doors open to the courtyard.

For the Newtown Social Club the future appears more set in stone as they plug away with events towards their final show in April. Sally Mather assured the City Hub that they “want to ensure our last run of shows are of the same high standard that our punters have come to expect”. In order to do this the final shows will feature the likes of Ash Grunwald, Amy Shark, Bec Sandridge, Cosmos Midnight, Front End Loader and Gareth Liddiad.

Linda Scott believes that Sydney needs to “be a place where experimental venues can open and allow for emerging artists to launch their careers, because without them we risk not having the Flumes and Midnight Oils of the future”. If you share these views then ensure you make your voice heard by heading to the venues and also by attending public council meetings on the matter.

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