The City of Sydney is set to reform outdated local planning laws in a bid to inject new life into the city's beleaguered late night economy.
The proposed reforms would allow retailers in the city centre and on high streets to stay open until 10pm, and for empty shops to be used by theatre groups for small performances, without needing formal approval.
The City would also be the first NSW local government authority to apply the 'agent of change' principle when managing noise impacts. Under this system, new residential developments near existing entertainment venues would need to be designed and built to ensure residents are not impacted by the venue's noise. Conversely, new entertainment venues would be required to protect existing residential properties from any noise it will make.
These proposed reforms are set out in a new discussion paper, An Open and Creative City, which outlines the City's plans to strengthen Sydney's cultural life, boost the night-time economy and support the local live music and performance scene. Residents and businesses are invited to have their say before they are finalised.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said that although the City had started this work to encourage a more diverse nightlife before the impact of the NSW Government's lockout laws, it was even more important now.
"We adopted OPEN Sydney, our late night policy, after a massive two-year program of consultation and detailed research. We looked at the ways people move around the city, using heat mapping to identify hotspots, consulted with residents, venues, emergency services and others, and built a deep understanding of the way people use our city at night," the Lord Mayor said.
"Unfortunately, the lockouts have had a serious impact on Sydney's cultural life, businesses and our reputation overseas - and while areas like Kings Cross are safer, we know the balance isn't right yet in terms of Sydney's nightlife.
"Many actions from OPEN have now been incorporated: we've led Sydney's small bar revolution and introduced food trucks, upgraded taxi ranks and improved wayfinding, increased CCTV, developed (and are now implementing) a live music action plan, and funded late night ambassadors.
"We also made a commitment to review the red tape that we are responsible for that impacts the way our city operates after hours.
"This discussion paper is the result of that work undertaken by the City's planning, business and cultural experts in consultation with residents, business and our nightlife and creative sectors.
"If approved by the Council, these reforms will be critical in helping to turn things around. People want to live in a city with a diverse and exciting night-time economy with cultural events and activities for people of all ages and interests. They don't want to live in or visit a city that is unsafe or that shuts down as soon as the sun goes down.
"We have many young creative people with great ideas and imagination. We want to make it easier to put their ideas into practice and enrich our city. The next step will be to invite the city community, local businesses and the live music and cultural sector to share their ideas on the proposed reforms."
The proposals under consideration include:
Making it easier for small businesses to trade later - allowing shops and local businesses in areas with an established retail character to extend their trading hours, without new development consent, from 7am to 10pm, seven days per week.
This would apply to main streets in areas including Newtown, Glebe, Pyrmont, Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Surry Hills, Redfern, Waterloo and the city centre. It would include shops and businesses such as grocery stores, clothing stores, bookshops, pharmacies, hardware stores, hairdressers, drycleaners, travel agents and banks.
To encourage retailers to take up the extended trading hours, the City already offers grants to help businesses trial innovative projects that extend their daytime activities into the evening, such as cultural and food events, retail promotions or live music programming.
Encouraging more small-scale cultural events and activities across the city - allowing cultural activities with minimal impacts, such as a shop hosting an intimate performance or a public talk, to take place without development consent.
Criteria such as location, hours of operation and capacity would be put in place to guide which activities fall into this category, and which would require development consent.
To support operators seeking to establish new cultural spaces, the City would also develop new, specialised planning controls and offer enhanced planning guidance and advice.
Developing fairer methods of managing entertainment noise - applying the 'agent of change' principle to the management of noise impacts.
Under this system, new residential developments near existing entertainment venues would need to be designed and built to manage the noise of the existing venue. Conversely, new entertainment venues would be required to protect existing residential properties from any noise it will make.
This would be accompanied by new planning controls and easy-to-understand noise compliance guidelines to improve certainty for venues and residents.
The City's night-time economy is estimated to produce $3.64 billion in revenue per year, involving more than 4,600 businesses and employing over 32,000 people.
The creative sector is also vital to Sydney's future - in 2013 NSW Government research found the state is home to 40 per cent of the nation's creative industries workforce, contributing $1.4 billion to the NSW economy. A significant proportion of this is concentrated in the City of Sydney local area.
The proposals under consideration have been developed out of the actions in the City's OPEN Sydney strategy and action plan, Creative City cultural policy and action plan, and live music and performance action plan.
The discussion paper will be on public exhibition from 24 October to 13 December. City staff will consider feedback from this process and prepare new planning controls, which will also go on exhibition.
If adopted by Council, the planning controls will be submitted to the Greater Sydney Commission. This is likely to be in late 2018.
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