THE HERALD'S OPINION: Apartment blocks cannot crowd out the city's entertainment venues

IF there is one thing that everyone knows right now about Newcastle, it’s that the city is in the midst of a rather substantial building boom.

The NSW government, which is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on its Revitalising Newcastle projects, describes it as a rejuvenation of the city’s central business district.

While that may be a close enough description, the overwhelming bulk of the building taking place in and around the CBD at the moment is residential, so much so that there are fears that the apartment boom is leaving no space for the new commercial development that should presumably be at the heart of any CBD rejuvenation.

The apartment boom is also raising fears about the future of the city’s live music scene, with former Screaming Jet Grant Walmsley and Wickham Park Hotel owner Marcus Wright combining to sound a warning of the threat to the industry posed by the incursion of apartments around long-established music venues.

As Walmsley observes, the number of venues promoting live music has plummeted since he began his career in the late 1980s. The proliferation of poker machines through hotels was arguably the greatest killer of live music, but complaints about noise played their part.  Newcastle City Council has made various efforts to encourage the city’s night-time economy, but the latest policy, Newcastle After Dark, appears to give little weight to the importance that live music plays in most cities after dark.

A City of Melbourne review of the regulations governing live music, begun in 2014, would appear to be a template for the sorts of things Newcastle needs to consider if it wants its venues to survive.

If a CBD is to thrive after dark, and to act as a magnet for people wanting a night out, then the people who choose to live in that area must ultimately accept that inner-city life comes with noise and disruption from time to time. The Melbourne policy recognises this by having new residential developments insulate themselves from the noise created by “existing and proposed entertainment venues”. This gives the music industry a prior recognition of rights.

If Newcastle is to become the “global” city its civic leaders are so often promoting, then its entertainment venues will likely need similar protection from encroaching apartments. After all, it’s a CBD, not a central residential district.

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