Sydney pubs hammered by noise complaints

20 February, 2019 by Craig Hawtin-Butcher

Image: Solotel’s Marlborough Hotel in Newtown

Restrictive regulations and new neighbours are killing the pub sector, say industry leaders, but a solution is on the horizon.

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“People who should know better need to understand a pub is a pub. Unless other restrictions are in place, that means if you want to have a beer outside and enjoy our great Sydney weather, you can.”

That’s the verdict from AHA NSW Director of Liquor and Policing John Green.

Green’s firm response follows from a number of restrictions recently placed on pubs in Sydney’s CBD as a result of noise complaints from newly-arrived residents.

These restrictions are seeing venues including the 145-year-old Royal Oak Hotel in Double Bay, operated by the Maloufs’ Royal Hotels Group, prevented from allowing patrons to drink at tables on Bay Street, unless they also order food.

A spokesperson for Woollahra Municipal Council said, “We are working with the Royal Oak to manage recent complaints received about noise. Council is looking to provide balance between the vibrancy and benefits local pubs bring to Double Bay, with the amenity of those who live in the area.”

Elsewhere at Solotel’s King’s Cross Hotel in Potts Point, the venue has opted to temporarily close its level three nightclub after noise complaints from residents living at a nearby apartment block, Omnia, which opened opposite the venue in November 2018.

King's Cross Hotel, Potts Point. Image (c) Google 2019

King’s Cross Hotel, Potts Point. Image (c) Google 2019

“Where we used to have a bar and a hotel next door, now we’ve got a new apartment block with really fabulous apartments in it,” says Solotel’s CEO Justine Baker. “Some of those apartments are selling for $2m. For us, we’ve never had a noise complaint at the King’s Cross [Hotel] and suddenly we’ve got noise complaints from residents.”

“Generally speaking, the idea a person can move in next to a pub that’s been part of local culture since the 1800s,” says Green, “and not only complain about noise, but actually have some success in changing long-standing practices which impact many people should be a joke, but sadly the reality is that it’s all too often true.”

Another Solotel venue, the 159-year-old Marlborough Hotel in Newtown, is in discussions with a neighbour over noise from its beer garden. It’s said the hotel is becoming a victim of its own success after lockout laws have encouraged patrons towards areas such as Newtown and Enmore.

“Through Newtown becoming a lot busier over the last couple of years,” says Baker, “the street noise has increased. It’s not just us, the whole background noise has increased. We can only control what we can control.”

Royal Oak Hotel, Double Bay. Image (c) Google 2019

 

But Baker also admits controlling patrons on site is a tough ask. “We’re ensuring that our beer garden is compliant,” says Baker, “but a lot of the time the noise is actually people – it’s people talking and laughing and that’s very hard to control.”

‘Agent of Change Principle’

Baker is, however, hopeful that the proposed ‘Agent of Change Principle’ (ACP) due to be discussed by the City of Sydney council in May will better balance conflicting needs.

“[ACP] means the person coming into the neighbourhood has to adhere to the community, rather than the pub adhering to the neighbours,” says Baker. “It builds the onus on the new residents coming in and protects the community that is already there.

“This is the first time in 10 years that the late-night DCP [Development Control Plans] process has been reviewed. It’s a really important piece of legislation for us,” says Baker.

Baker, and other operators like her, are both hopeful and confident that change could be on the way.

“We know the councillors and the planners have been very proactive. They’re very keen on bringing it in. I can’t imagine it wouldn’t be supported but you just never know until it’s through,” says Baker.

“Sentiment is moving away from heavy regulation and where we were,” says Baker. “Residents are now saying ‘we don’t actually want all the businesses and pubs and clubs going out of our neighbourhood, we want them to stay’. If you move into an environment that is bustling and busy, it should stay that way. Just because you move in, it shouldn’t have to change to a suburban neighbourhood.”

At the Marlborough Tavern, Solotel is continuing to work towards a better solution.

“What that means for us is more investment,” says Baker. “They’re really expensive measures and a lot of people may not choose to do those measures, they may choose just not to trade.”

The Royal Hotels Group did not respond to a request for comment.

Woollahra Municipal Council, which has jurisdiction over the Royal Oak Hotel in Double Bay, have been approached for comment.

The Royal Oak, Double Bay

The Royal Oak, Double Bay