Government keeps council waiting on liquor licence guidelines

Government keeps council waiting on liquor licence guidelines
Sean Car

Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said he was frustrated by the Victorian Government’s continued delays in providing clarity for central city residents following its decision to end a 13-year freeze on new late-night venues in the CBD.

In March 2023, the City of Melbourne urged the government to clarify its definition of “noise sensitive areas” ahead of July 1 when a policy that prevented new licences in the CBD and Docklands from serving alcohol beyond 1am was lifted.

Since 2010, bars and other late-night venues wishing to trade beyond 1am had required a special ministerial exemption – a move implemented by the former Brumby government to tackle alcohol-related harm and crime in inner-Melbourne.

But since July 1 in 2023 no such exemption is required after Premier Daniel Andrews vowed to “supercharge the creation of new venues” prior to re-election in November in 2022, part of which included a removal of the ban.

Councillors voted in favour of a recommendation that the planning minister introduce a more concrete definition on March 21 last year, arguing that this would give “greater clarity to the community and businesses”.

The resolution supported by councillors requested that the minister facilitate these necessary changes to the planning framework by June 30, 2023 – the timeline set by the government for the freeze to expire.

Councillors also 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 its ability to enforce the rules.

But this month at the June 4 Future Melbourne Committee meeting following a question from Docklands resident Jo Bacon asking whether the council had received any updates from government to date, Cr Reece said it was still waiting.

“I do note that the council approved that amendment back in March 2023. The work was duly followed up and it was lodged with the planning minister in June 2023. So here we are one year later, and we have not received a response. That is frustrating,” Cr Reece said.

Ms Bacon also asked the council whether it had other measures available to protect Docklands from issues such as “ATET repeating itself” given licences for new venues didn’t require council planning approval.

Cr Reece said all members of the public could still lodge an objection through Liquor Control Victoria, and that Victorian “noise and other regulations” continued to apply to manage impacts on residents “even where there is no planning approval required”.

“I do note that the ATET matter is before the courts currently and so I am quite limited in what I can say about that, but I do hope that case showed that this council is prepared to step in and protect community amenity, and we would absolutely do so again,” Cr Reece said. •

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