“The current situation is unacceptable”: council and regulators meet with residents over ATET nightclub noise
Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece has described current impacts on many Docklands residents from floating nightclub ATET as “unacceptable”, as the City of Melbourne continues to advocate to state government in search of solutions.
The council’s chair of planning made the statement as part of his concluding remarks at a community meeting held at Marvel Stadium on March 14, which was prompted by the council following ongoing complaints from locals since ATET opened in October last year.
Facilitated by community engagement practice Mosaic Lab, the live-streamed event saw more than 100 Docklanders meet with representatives from the City of Melbourne, Environment Protection Authority (EPA), Victoria Police and Liquor Control Victoria.
However, representatives from Development Victoria, the main decision-making authority still overseeing governance of Docklands alongside the council, were noticeably absent from the meeting.
“Where is Development Victoria? Clearly, they’re not on the list tonight,” one resident said on the night.
ATET’s owner Jake Hughes also attended the meeting along with his parents.
With question times at the council’s regular meetings having become dominated by complaints regarding ATET since the venue first opened, the “town hall” style meeting was aimed at providing locals clear space to raise concerns and hear directly from authorities.
In opening the event, Lord Mayor Sally Capp said, “we want you to know that we are elected to represent you and your views, that we have heard them loud and clear.”
“I know there’s a lot of frustration among our residents here in Docklands over the noise issues coming from ATET,” Cr Capp said.
“Tonight is an opportunity for us together with the other regulatory bodies responsible for managing noise and amenity issues. We’re here tonight to listen collectively – the first time we’ve had a chance as the responsible bodies to do that.”
The first 90 minutes of the meeting largely saw residents line up both in person and through online questions to have their say, with many providing their own agonising accounts of how ATET’s operations had personally affected them and their families.
“It’s probably one of the most beautiful places in Australia, and we understand things have changed, post COVID, but this place [ATET] has made us prisoners in our own home,” one resident said.
It has made us leave Melbourne eight to 10 times at our own expense just to get away from the problems.
“I’m just flabbergasted. This beautiful place is being held hostage by one venue,” with the resident also citing concerns about being consistently “terrorised” by “drunken, high people” who he said frequented Buluk Park on weekends.
“I have zero confidence in anything coming from tonight,” he said.
“How about something coming the residents’ way. I can’t actually see one aspect of anything that has gone the residents’ way since October 22 [ATET’s opening] … not one.”
Another resident, who is part of the Residents of Docklands Inc. group launched in response to the issue, told the meeting that his wife had become “hysterical” from the stress caused by the venue’s constant bass during weekends.
“My wife will try and find a corner in the hallway where it’s protected. It’s not good,” he said.
Many residents expressed concerns with the constant bass during ATET’s operations, and not being able to entertain or sit on their balconies, while one father said he’d been unable to get their three-year-old daughter to sleep.
“Recently trying to put her to bed has become an issue. If she can’t sleep, how is she expected to develop?” he said, urging authorities to “put the kids at the forefront of a solution, please.”
“We can’t go out on the balcony,” another resident said. “We have to shut the door to the living room, and we still have this ‘doof, doof, doof’. It’s not music, it’s a horrible sound and it gets to you. We can’t have this go on forever.”
Another resident said she didn’t know what anxiety felt like before ATET. “I now know what anxiety is from that ‘doof, doof, doof’. I don’t entertain anymore,” she said.
Many others aired their frustrations with the regulatory environment governing Docklands, with many calling for urgent reform to current planning laws and the Docklands Act 1991.
“I don’t give a damn what the rules and regulations are, they’re obviously completely inappropriate. They have to be changed, there is no other answer,” a resident said, while another asked the council whether it was “working with the state government to change the Docklands Act, so that residents have some input as to what happens in their suburb in the same way that residents in other locations have.”
And, in perhaps one of the more challenging accounts given on the night, a NewQuay resident living with medical conditions said she had become unable to work due to the impact of the bass from ATET.
“My personal situation is that I work full time in the CBD. I also have medical conditions that I need to manage, and I wanted a work-life balance that could allow me to manage those conditions,” she said.
“As a consequence of ATET and the impact it’s had on me, I now have a situation that would have been classed as a medical condition that is now disabling me to undertake my work and look after my health. I’m having to potentially reduce the amount of work that I do and my effectiveness at work.”
The final 30 minutes of the session heard mainly from the council’s general manager of strategy, planning and climate change Evan Counsel, as well as the EPA’s Steve Lansdell, who each attempted to address many concerns raised on the night.
Of particular note, many residents have queried why ATET had been classified as an indoor venue given the nature of its “roll-up” open-air structure based outdoors in Victoria Harbour.
“There are particular definitions under the state guidelines as to what is an indoor or an outdoor venue,” Mr Edwards said, reaffirming that it was deemed “an indoor venue” – a response one resident labelled as “gobbledygook”.
But another member of the council’s planning team Julian Edwards added, “the definition sits within the EPA protocols and the reason that indoor was used is because it sets a higher benchmark than what the outdoor one allows, in terms of the volume, the decibels, the amount of noise.”
Mr Lansdell said while it had fallen under an indoor classification, it was looking into possible measures with ATET’s management to better enclose the venue.
“An outdoor venue is really there to apply to big outdoor spaces, big outdoor venues that can’t feasibly be enclosed. That’s why indoor is where this one is classified,” he said.
“As the team has said these are actually some stricter controls. Why isn’t it enclosed? It is a very good question …”
The meeting also heard from the council’s acting CEO Alison Leighton, who attempted to assure residents that councillors had been “prioritising” the issue with the council’s administration and officers.
“I sense the frustration. We are committed to providing timelines and we are committed to providing responses to all of the questions that you’re asking of us,” she said.
The Lord Mayor said the issues residents were facing “was a very complex area the council, unfortunately, has very little direct control over,” adding that noise, liquor licensing and safety were all matters overseen by the state government.
“The EPA levels are set by the EPA through the state government, so we’d be looking for reform there,” Cr Capp said.
Unfortunately, the way the system is set up with the Docklands Act, residents don’t have the opportunity to object to these types of permits.
“But this is an area that was set up to have a mixture of 72,000 employees, 20,000 residents ultimately, and a whole mix of retail, dining, entertainment, including what happens here at Marvel Stadium, whether it’s football or concerts; this area was set up specifically to be a home to all of those.”
“What we’re experiencing at the moment is a real tension between what is an allowable use and activity here in Docklands.”
At the meeting, a commitment was made to:
- Respond in writing to all questions raised no later than April 18, 2023 – a coordinated response from the City of Melbourne, EPA, Department of Justice and Community Safety and Victoria Police; and
- Communicate the outcomes of the investigations currently under way by the council and the EPA eight weeks from the information session (May 9, 2023), which includes sound monitoring from within apartments.
While much frustration and tension lingered in the air at the end of the meeting with many left feeling a sense of helplessness over the situation, Cr Reece said the council was continuing to take the issue “very seriously”.
“I hope you get a sense from this evening that this is something that we’re taking very seriously,” he said. “You absolutely have the right to peaceful enjoyment of your homes.”
“The current situation is unacceptable. The current situation cannot continue, and we are going to work with you to fix it.”
“As you have heard, the fact that we are here tonight having this meeting means fixing it is not as easy as it might seem, so there are a multitude of things that we are working on to try and get a resolution.”
“It’s very much our intention and our plan to be able to have a venue like ATET, which operates successfully in an environment where there are residents nearby. We have seen that it can be done multiple times in this city, and we think it can be done here as well.” •