ATET: a loud litmus test for Docklands’ identity

ATET: a loud litmus test for Docklands’ identity
Sean Car

Less than two months on from the Docklands Summit, the opening weekend of new floating nightclub/events space ATET in October provided the loudest post-COVID test for Docklands’ identity to date, as the question begs: are we a city precinct, or a country town? 

The Docklands Summit held on September 2 represented somewhat of a line in the sand moment for Docklands, as the City of Melbourne and all key stakeholders gathered for some soul searching. 

No secret has been made of how challenging the past few years has been for Docklands. Since the closure of Central Pier and two years of lockdowns, workers have left, business has been ravaged, visitation has been in decline and the precinct has suffered as a result. 

The need for such a summit, as well as the efforts of those such as Renew Australia to fill vacant shopfronts, are stark reflections of a precinct which is far from living up to its potential.  

But with 16,000 residents now calling Docklands home, getting the balance between amenity and activation right in a precinct which has always been zoned as “mixed-use”, continues to prove a challenge. 

While the closure of Central Pier and some of its “noisy” operators, including Atlantic Group functions and Alumbra night club, represented a blow to the local business community, for some residents, it was quite the contrary.

These closures, in addition to lockdowns, have undoubtedly created a false sense of silence in Docklands for many residents compared to the sort of noise the area was once familiar with pre-COVID …

 

And since ATET was first announced in Docklands News back in April last year, trepidation has been rising among some members of our community about what a floating nightclub could mean for the peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Opposition to ATET had been brewing for some time within the community well ahead of its eventual launch on October 22 with a petition even having been proposed. One local even mistakenly took to social media associating “unacceptable” noise heard on the weekend of October 15-16 as coming from ATET – a week prior to its launch. 

 

But the storm that erupted once ATET did launch over the weekend of October 22-23 was like nothing we’ve seen before in Docklands, with the business’s decision to announce itself with two days of back-to-back DJ sets raising more than a few eyebrows. 

It’s fair to say that many of the issues stemming from ATET’s introduction to Docklands could have been avoided with a bit more attention to detail. While not obligated under the rules, greater consultation with locals wouldn’t have gone astray given what it was proposing.

Pushing the limits to 1am on the Monday morning was also clearly a bridge too far, and for residents preparing for an early start to the working week, this is more than understandable. And as the owners have since accepted, it was louder than it needed to be.

But for a business which had invested a significant amount of money into its venture, the “administrative oversight” of trading on a Sunday without a permit was gobsmacking, and only added fuel to the already raging fire. 

However, nothing can excuse some of the disappointing commentary which ensued on social media on all sides of the debate, as well as threats made against the business in the days following. No amount of disrupted sleep can excuse some of what transpired. 

As Cr Rohan Leppert would later point out in a Facebook post on October 29, “it is almost never the case that a single breach of a planning permit results in the destruction of the business responsible, and nor should it”.

“Council is not in the business of taking a punitive approach to planning enforcement; Docklands is famously a mix of residential, commercial and entertainment uses, and whether the matter is ATET, or any other current or future land use, efforts must be made to find ways of co-locating these uses.”

And in response to much misinformation which has been circulating regarding other alleged breaches of ATET’s permit ...

The wharf upon which ATET is operating on is owned by Development Victoria (DV), which via “secondary consent” issued approval for the business to operate at its temporary location. Docklands News touched on this in its October edition … 

“While currently berthed in a temporary location near Shed 2, ATET will eventually relocate right to the tip of North Wharf near the Bolte Bridge subject to structural assessments by Development Victoria, which recently completed upgrade works on the wharf.”

Approval was also issued by DV for ATET’s customers to egress across the wharf, instead of via vehicle as stated in its permit. 

As for the noise, well, it’s a little complicated. But Docklands is what planning laws consider to be a “noise attenuated zone”, meaning simply that developers need to ensure adequate double glazing in what’s a mixed-use area. There’s nothing in the rules which stipulate noise limits at the source; in ATET’s case, the speakers. So long as the sound doesn’t exceed 65db outside the apartment, then it’s business as usual.

ATET since released a statement responding to the many concerns raised and reassuring locals that it would rectify issues in accordance with its permit obligations. It’s since taken steps to reduce sound levels, so it can only be judged on its actions from here on in. For everyone’s sakes, let’s hope this new business, which has so much potential for success here in Docklands – an area which desperately needs such investments – can demonstrate compliance. 

 

If it can, it will go a long way towards helping answer the looming question surrounding our identity in Docklands: city precinct, or country town?

 

Given our thriving residential community and our less thriving business community, most would agree there needs to be a balance between the two. 

Let’s all work together towards that goal, so Docklands can fulfill the potential those of us who love it know it has in spades.  •

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