A new network of inner-city residents group fears moves at local and state government level to boost the late-night economy will increase conflicts over noise.
After months of relative quiet during the coronavirus lockdown, Newcastle's CBD is becoming busier and noisier at night. Some residents have told the Newcastle Herald they enjoyed the relative peace and the return to normality has been difficult.
Some Honeysuckle residents wrote submissions opposing the ongoing council and government trial of later bar and restaurant trading, and the Great Northern Hotel met on Monday night with nearby residents to, in part, discuss noise issues.
The new network forming between Newcastle Inner City Residents Alliance, Newcastle East Residents Group, Hunter Community Forum, NewWest Action Group and Honeysuckle Residents Group has expressed concern about City of Newcastle and NSW Parliament seeking to change planning rules and laws relating to noise.
The Coalition government, backed by Labor, has passed the Liquor Amendment (24-hour Economy) Bill through the lower house.
Part of the Bill removes restrictions on the genre of music and instruments that can be played in venues, though it notes this change does not remove conditions relating to noise abatement.
It also makes councils and police, and not Liquor & Gaming NSW, chiefly responsible for regulating noise, including live music, from inside venues.
Newcastle and other councils wrote submissions on the Bill complaining that they did not have the resources to manage noise complaints.
Randwick City Council's submission said the Bill's plan to remove noise from inside licensed premises as grounds for complaint under the Liquor Act's "disturbance" provisions "seems more of an abrogation of the preferred 'whole of premises' regulatory approach".
"This, in our view, will fragment the existing 'disturbance complaint' provisions to the detriment of those who suffer frequent undue disturbances by noise," it said.
State Labor launched on Monday its "Plan for Jobs and the Night-Time Economy", under the heading "Lockouts Lock Down Music".
The position statement expresses support for the Bill and adds that a Labor government would grant local councils "the power to sweep away bans and restrictions on music and entertainment that have accumulated historically in their development approvals".
Dr Anthony Cook, the resident groups' representative on the government's Newcastle Committee for Night Time Jobs and Investment, said the bipartisan support for changes in late-night trading sounded warning bells for inner-city residents.
"There appears to be an attempt to remove protections for pre-existing residents," Dr Cook said.
State Labor wants a one-stop shop for noise complaints, as opposed to what it says are seven bureaucracies now with some responsibility for managing noise issues.
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Meanwhile, Newcastle council's Labor majority is pushing for planning controls which would force developers to inform buyers of the existence of nearby live music as a way of reducing conflict between residents and venues.
Dr Cook said the change appeared designed to reduce the rights of new residents to complain about noise on the basis that they were "warned".
"It is biased, in the first instance, as they are not seeking to do the reciprocal, which would be to inform new businesses moving into a mixed-use zone of the presence of residents and so manage businesses' perceptions of the limitations that they may experience in operating a business in close proximity to residents. Mixed use zoning does not mean businesses get priority and residents come second."
Resident Judy Wilkinson said music and patron noise from the Great Northern had affected her sleep and at times prompted her to stay with relatives.
"I can't open a window when it's hot, and even then I've got to wear ear plugs," she said. "One night it was so bad I couldn't even drive the next day. I'm just so sick.
"They're queued around the street, and the language is not nice. They're half-cocked going in, even at 8.30, and it's just screaming, language.
"I guess I'm more sensitive to it because we all got a break during COVID lockdown. It was wonderful to be around here."
She said the council's attempt to warn new buyers did not help existing residents.
"Does anyone in Newcastle care about someone that can't get to sleep at two o'clock? Is there not enough of us? Are we not important enough?"
The Newcastle Herald attempted to contact the hotel for comment.
Hotel management has said in emails to Ms Wilkinson that it has been implementing a sound management plan and is trying to work with residents to reduce noise impacts.
Ms Wilkinson, who has cancer, said she had complained to the council, police, Liquor & Gaming NSW, the Environment Protection Authority and the federal government's Live Music Office.
She was one of about 10 residents who attended a meeting with the Great Northern on Monday.
She said some residents in her building had been "worn down" trying to combat excessive noise and some had sold up and left.
"We've got to kick-start this economy. I get it. I'm not trying to shut them down.
"This is a work in progress. We're still saying we can hear the noise. We're still going to have to be the residential police to keep them honest."
Labor councillor Carol Duncan said balancing the rights of residents with the night economy was a complex issue after the boom in apartment building.
"Part of the work is finding a way to manage noise burdens in a developing city," she said.
"I think we're getting a lot closer."
Cr Duncan questioned whether it was "realistic that you can buy an apartment in the city and assume it's going to be quiet all the time".
But she did not believe local and state governments were trying to soften noise controls.
"Hopefully, this is about cutting a lot of red tape, making it a lot more equitable for residents and live music and night-time economy industries so they can work together rather than butting heads, which is what we see so often at the moment.
"The seven bureaucracies that look after noise, that's not helpful."