Council frozen out by government on liquor changes for Docklands

Council frozen out by government on liquor changes for Docklands
David Schout

Calls for clarification on new late-night venue rules, and what it could mean for Docklands residents, are being ignored by the state government.

A City of Melbourne request for the Victorian Government to tweak and clarify new liquor licence laws since it lifted a 1am “freeze” has fallen on deaf ears.

Despite one councillor saying swift clarification was what Docklands residents and businesses “deserved”, the government has to date ignored council concerns.

Since July, a 13-year freeze on new late-night venues has been lifted, with venues no longer requiring a special exemption to trade beyond 1am.

The prior ban, first introduced by the former Brumby government to tackle alcohol-related harm and crime in inner-Melbourne, was removed by former Premier Daniel Andrews as a way to “supercharge the creation of new venues” in the city.

However, since Mr Andrews first promised to remove the “freeze” a week out from the November 2022 state election, which his Labor Government would go on to comfortably win, councillors have expressed concerns about what the move could mean for locals.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said shortly after the election that complaints about late-night venues was in her “top three” items of correspondence, in what she called “a natural tension between residents and businesses”.

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said at the time he was wary of the government’s impending move.

“I do want to assert, in the clearest possible terms, that there are risks associated with lifting liquor licences to 3am in the city,” he said.

“The difference between 1am and 3am may only be two hours on the clock, but it can be a lifetime of difference when you’re having a night out on the town.”

In the 10 years to 2021, the residential population of Docklands and the CBD more than doubled from 28,011 to an estimated 59,765, which the council said reinforced the need to ensure liquor licensing changes did not adversely impact amenity.

In March, councillors urged management to write to the Planning Minister for clarity on why the freeze was lifted in the first place.

Notably they also requested that the government, as part of the impending changes, amend the planning scheme to require a permit of all new late-night venues in Docklands – as is required in the CBD – rather than being granted one “as of right”.

The council argued that there was no strong rationale behind this, which also hampered the ability to enforce the rules.

 

“The ‘as of right’ uses in most precincts in the Docklands Zone limit the ability of council to apply the local planning policy,” the motion stated.

 

Seven months on, however, and the council has now confirmed that all requests had to date been ignored.

Greens councillor Rohan Leppert, who first proposed a council review into the matter shortly after the November 2022 state election, detailed the events to Docklands News and said it was “a little frustrating” that “modest” requests had been ignored.

“The state government is the agent of change here. They promised on the eve of the election that the late-night freeze would cease on June 30, 2023, and that’s what happened,” he said.

“Council anticipated this, and, in good faith, we reviewed all of the planning controls and policies that apply to licensed premises in the city and put forward a series of modest amendments before the freeze ended.”

“All those proposed amendments do is update some obsolete terms and remove ambiguity on how government balances the intensification of licensed premises with local amenity. Applicants and city residents deserve to have that clarity.”

“It’s a little frustrating that the state government has not acted on this, leaving the planning framework out of date for more than three months now. I would politely encourage the Minister and Department to get their skates on.”

The Planning Minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment from Docklands News.

The government has previously said lifting the freeze, which would also apply to fellow inner-city municipalities Port Phillip, Yarra and Stonnington, was to “support Melbourne’s night-time economy and helping create new live music venues”.

It is expected that the number of applications for late-night venues – those operating beyond 1am – will increase now that the freeze has lifted. •

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