Sydney CBD liquor licence freeze to be lifted

15 June, 2020 by Andy Young

The NSW Government has said that post COVID-19 the long-standing freeze on new liquor licences in Sydney’s CBD will be lifted and it will also relax restrictions on late trading.

The licence freeze was put in place as part of measures targeting alcohol-related harm in areas with high concentrations of liquor businesses. It has prevented the granting of new licences for hotels, nightclubs, registered clubs and packaged liquor outlets across the Sydney CBD and Kings Cross precincts.

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It is expected that the Government will allow applications for new licences later in the year, following public consultation.

Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said: “These changes will kick-start a new era in Sydney’s 24-hour economy, giving new venues a start, and allowing existing pubs, clubs, hotels and bottle shops a chance to adjust their offerings to meet changing customer demand.

“In some CBD locations, this will be the first time in 11 years that applications for new venues will be considered.”

And while the removal of the licence freeze is welcomed, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) have issued and interim guideline in relation to cumulative impact assessments that will be the replacement to the liquor licence freeze when new legislation comes before Parliament this year. This, it can be argued, is simply a licence freeze under another name.

The ILGA guideline will continue to stymie applications in a range of areas including the southern part of the CBD, the Darlinghurst/Oxford St area, and the northern CBD around Wynyard and Kings Cross.

John Green, Director of Liquor and Policing for AHA NSW, told TheShout: “The ‘temporary’ liquor licence freeze was imposed in 2008, so it’s been in pace for 11 years, so we believe it’s well over due to remove the freeze. There’s a lot of venues in the CBD area they’re looking to renovate or refurbish, where those activities would have intensified use, and so they’ve been unable to.

“It is an opportunity in some parts of the CBD to take advantage of opportunities to revitalise their venues, which will hopefuly have a knock-on effect in relation to our night-time economy.”

But as a result of the ILGA guideline, he added: “Any operator considering using the opportunity to make the applications in relation to their venues should probably consult with a liquor licensing solicitor to see if their venue is eligible.”

However, Green is hopeful this will help boost Sydney’s night-time economy in the post-COVID era.

“I think the work being done by City of Sydney and Minister Ayres’ 24-hour nightlife task force will combine with this to see a reinvigoration of Sydney nightlife post-COVID,” he said.

“We were already on track in this space when the COVID-19 crisis hit, so it’s imperative that later in the year we get back on track to re-create Sydney as a global city.”

Michael Rodrigues, Chair of the Night Time Industries Association welcomed the announcement, saying: “The liquor freeze is one of a number of outdated restrictions still in place from another era.”

He added: “In addition to removing restrictions, Governments need to be proactive in incentivising consumers to return to our CBDs, particularly at night. This could include free transport, free parking and subsidised entertainment. An acceleration in our cycleways program is a no-brainer. And in the medium term Government should be working with the commercial property sector in relation to increasing the residential mix including affordable housing options in our city centres.

“We would encourage the NSW Government to continue to think boldly about Sydney’s future nightlife. And that must include the removal of the lockout laws which are still in place in Kings Cross.”

This announcement follows the NSW Government’s plans to reform the state’s night-time economy, which are still open for public comment.