BY JOHN MOYLE
The warm weather is here and just like birds chasing an eternal summer, backpackers arrive in Kings Cross to complete their migratory rite of passage to party, party, party.
Or at least that is how it appears to some residents living near Kings Cross’s backpacker central in Victoria Street.
Recent months has seen them united against what they say are ‘noise and behavioural problems’ emanating from hostels located near residents in Victoria Street and on a ridge behind the hostels.
The un-named residents’ group raised a petition against backpackers in general, and lodged an objection to a Development Application (DA) from the Original Backpackers and Zing Hostel at 156-162 Victoria Street, to build a three-storey addition over a rear courtyard.
The Original Backpackers is something of an icon in the backpacking community, with claims that it was the first backpackers’ hostel in the area when it opened in 1980.
The DA is for The Original Backpackers and Zing Hostel to carry out alterations and extensions, including a new addition to accommodate six new hostel rooms, communal lounge and kitchen, bringing the total number of guests to 249, to be accommodated in 77 rooms across the premises.
For the past 15 years a company directed by Daniel Harrison has operated the hostel complex. Mr. Harrison said, “Most of the neighbours haven’t looked at the plans,” and says that they will result in less occupants as new State legislation requires an increase of bed space from 2.5 sqm to 3.5 sqm.
Ms. Patti Skenridge, a resident living on the Potts Point ridge above the hostels, is citing a lack of consultation with the community and anti-social behavior associated with the hostels in the area for her opposition.
“The guests in these hostels consume large amounts of BYO alcohol on the premises and in front of the hostels on Victoria Street, where they gather every evening and party until the early hours of the morning, disturbing residents,” Ms. Skenridge said.
“It is not unlike living next to a very noisy pub/club combined,” she added.
A City of Sydney spokesperson said, “There are currently 18 backpacker premises in Potts Point registered with the City of Sydney, and existing backpacker premises must comply with their development consent, and noise is regulated using the NSW Protection of the Environment Operations Act.”
Mr. Harrison said that in 2016, Kings Cross Police carried out sound monitoring in the area to check on noise relating to the hostels at the request of residents.
Sam Donni, Senior Constable, Crime Prevention, Kings Cross Police, confirmed the monitoring.
“We did some sound monitoring from some of the residents’ places in Springfield Avenue and the trouble was not so much in the courtyards, but with backpackers leaving the hostels and going out into the streets,” he said.
Mr. Harrison claims that the new addition will alleviate any sound problems coming from the courtyard as “most of the new structure will be enclosed, and we are thinking of putting in a retractable roof that can be open during the day and enclosed at night.”
The combined hostel businesses will also be installing fire doors on all of the Earl Street exits that will prevent guests from leaving and re-entering from the street.
They also plan to install a single office desk that will be manned by a non-backpacker during the evenings as a way of further monitoring rowdy behaviour.
The DA was on display until 7 December, 2017, and is currently under consideration.
Backpackers have been in the Kings Cross/ Potts Point area longer than most of the people making complaints and make valuable contributors to the local, state and national economy.
For the year ending June 2017, there were a total of 645,000 backpacker visits nationally, accounting for eight per cent of all visitors to Australia, spending an average of $5338 each, which contributed $4.5 billion to the economy.
Backpacker hostels overall can do more to control unruly behaviour on their premises, and local residents can be a little less sensitive to backpackers, because, in most cases, they were there first.