Recently the Victorian Minister for Planning, Matthew Guy, made a commitment to introduce the 'agent-of-change principle', potentially revolutionising the attitude to noise restrictions in Melbourne and protecting live music venues against complaints from developers and residents. With potential concerns about noise pollution rearing its head in the ACT in recent weeks, is it time to potentially investigate similar moves here? Cody Atkinson questions.
Name? Noise complaints and noise pollution.
Age? About five minutes after the first gig started ever.
Location? About three doors down from the pub you're in.
What's the 'agent-of-change' principle? The 'agent-of-change' change principle potentially revolutionises the relationship between live music venues and other occupants. The agent of change principle determines responsibility for noise management. Where changed conditions are introduced into an environment (for example through a new use, or changed operating conditions), the reasonable expectations of the existing land users should be respected.
Depending on who enters the community (the venue or the resident) and presuming compliance with current noise pollution standards by the existent party, the onus of remedial work will fall on the new party.
But wouldn’t this unnecessarily shift the balance in favour of live music venues at the hands of developers? The ‘agent-of-change’ principle doesn’t just protect venues, it protects the original user of the land regardless. If a venue moves next to the house you’ve been living in for a decade and starts blasting music all night, it would be on the venue to pay for the necessary changes to fix the noise.
So why were the changes introduced and were there any other changes? They were introduced in a paper by Music Victoria amid a period of threats to several iconic live music venues in Melbourne. There has also been changes to code compliance rules for small venues and a review of “out-dated” noise pollution levels.
So if Victoria is the first place in Australia to introduce ‘agent-of-change’ laws, what have other states done? The first major move to support live music with respect to noise restrictions happened in Brisbane, with the introduction of the Valley Special Entertainment Precinct, which shifted much of the battle back in favour of venues in this field. The Valley Special Entertainment Precinct (which covers large swathes of the inner city, but not the CBD itself) has been withdrawn from wider noise pollution laws, with a local city law increasing noise pollution limits both at the venues and from any potential complainant’s premises. The move has been said to have increased the vibrancy of the Brisbane live music scene and has created a hub of venues near the city.
What are the restrictions in the Precinct and how do they compare to the ACT? At its heart, the Valley Special Entertainment Precinct allows for sound of up to 90db during peak music times (the weekend nights) and a secondary measure for maximum noise levels in a complainant’s household (50db). In the ACT, the maximum sound level from the border of the leasehold, as prescribed by the Environment Protection Regulations 2005, is 60db. This is a simplified summary and much more detail is available in both the Amplified Music Venues Local Law 2006 and the ACT EPR 2005, but that means that noise eight times as loud is permitted in the Valley as compared to the ACT.
So has it been successful? So successful that in 2013 Leichhardt City Council implemented a similar zone on Parramatta Road, with hopes that it would create a similar entertainment and live music hub. The Council specifically cited the success of the Fortitude Valley measures in making the proposal for Parramatta Road.
Canberra’s live music scene is in a good place right now though, isn't it? It’s good right now, but it could always be better. According to the recent Live Performance Australia report, the ACT had one of the lowest per-capita spends on live contemporary music in the country. This is despite the ACT’s push in the last two years to promote culture through the city with both the Centenary celebrations and the CBR campaign.
Does the ACT need similar reforms? There is a decent case for them in the ACT. It has been raised recently in the Canberra Times that some venues around Narrabundah (such as the Harmonie German Club) have concerns that development proposals that have been submitted may cause potential noise complaints and significant costs to improve their facilities, in the future. An ‘agent-of-change’ principle would protect venues like Harmonie, who have been in their current location for over 50 years.
Has the ACT considered similar changes in the past? In 2009, the ACT Government initiated the 'Inquiry into Live Community Events' and established the 'Reduction of Barriers to the Production of Live Music in the ACT lnterdirectorate Committee'. In 2011, the ACT Government considered both the interim and final reports stemming from these committees, which included submissions into designated live music areas and 'order-of-occupancy' (similar to agent-of-change) legislative amendments. Ultimately at the time the ACT Government decided not to follow these recommendations.
So if they've rejected it before, why bring up the issue again? Because it's an important issue and governments should always be receptive to good ideas.
There has been a lot of change in Canberra in the last four years, from the re-vitalisation of Braddon to the nascent hub of New Acton to the proposed creation of a creative space in Civic West. The live music culture of the Capital is important in providing a cultural identity amongst its citizens and fosters the creation of art, both emerging and established.
In the last four years other governments of various political persuasions have implemented or have considering implementing changes to help facilitate live music and live music venues. While it may not have been the right time for change four years ago, it might now be time for the ACT to consider the approaches undertaken in other parts of Australia and potentially implement them here.