“We need to draw a line in the sand”: Council issues default notice to ATET
Controversial floating nightclub ATET is being forced to either turn its music right down or vacate Victoria Harbour after City of Melbourne councillors voted unanimously to default the venue for “significant and consistent” noise breaches.
At their May 30 council meeting, councillors determined that in light of new information provided by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA), which had recently concluded an investigation into the noise of ATET, it had “no choice” but to act upon the breaches.
In reiterating previous comments that the current situation with ATET was “unacceptable”, Deputy Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the default notice meant the venue would either now have to turn music down to “background levels only” or find another location.
“What we are doing tonight is we will be notifying ATET that they are in breach of the EPA protocols, and if they’re in breach of their EPA protocols then they are in breach of their planning permit. And, if they don’t have a planning permit, then they also are in breach of their berthing licence as well,” Cr Reece said.
What does background music levels mean? It’s the sort of music levels that we see operating in many successful venues across Melbourne and venues which do so without creating mass public disturbance.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp said that the council would now “work with ATET and the EPA to understand how that compliance can be attained and maintained, on the advice that we’ve received from the EPA”.
“Our council officers will consider again whether compliance can be achieved with the permit and the licence, and we’ll need to be able to see that happen in a reasonable time frame.”
“We’re very conscious of the ongoing impacts for residents. And, if it’s not possible or practical for ATET to meet their compliance obligations, then management can decide to cancel the licence.”
Two weeks prior at the May 16 Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting at the Community Hub in Docklands, councillors had voted to consider taking the “unprecedented” action to terminate the venue’s licence in Victoria Harbour.
The shock move came as the Lord Mayor sprung an urgent item of business following a Docklands neighbourhood update from council officers, stating that the council “needed to draw a line in the sand”.
While the council referred the decision to its May 30 ordinary meeting, the urgent motion had been flagged on May 16 as a “signal of intent” to seek approval from Minister for Planning Sonya Kilkenny for ATET’s Crown land licence to be terminated.
Speaking to Docklands News following the May 30 meeting, ATET owner Jake Hughes said, “We’re obviously grateful the council hasn’t made a rash decision to cancel our Crown land licence,” but questioned why this move had been flagged in the first place.
“Our business has suffered from that [move to cancel license],” he said, adding it had caused a great deal of uncertainty to a number of bookings at the venue.
“We had just started recovering from the arson attack,” he said. “It just seemed so unnecessary.”
Mr Hughes described the council’s handling of the situation as “bewildering”.
“It would be nice if the council and the authorities can take some accountability,” he said.
“The EPA information is still very fresh. We don’t really know where that sits. If there’s new evidence that shows we were exceeding [limits] we would have obviously brought this down to achieve compliance.”
Council approved out acoustic reports and basically told us everything was compliant. Now we’re being told to turn the music down to background levels, which seems like an unnecessary and over the top reaction.
“It’s obviously far from ideal for us. I don’t think it has to go from one extreme to the other,” adding that he was now uncertain how the changes would impact an international DJ from Italy who was scheduled to play at the venue on June 3.
“Hopefully we can get the EPA report and review the data. In the short-term we’re happy to bring the levels right down, but our priority remains to move location,” he said.
According to the report tabled on May 30, sound monitoring from the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) had advised that “noise exceedances were detected in various directions from the venue and were on both low and higher frequency sounds”.
“From this analysis it is apparent that significant changes would be needed to ATET’s operations in order to effectively reduce and mitigate the music noise impacts, and bring ATET into compliance with the EPA protocols,” the report stated.
Cr Capp said that since ATET launched in October last year the council had received “unprecedented levels of complaints and concerns” from Docklanders, and despite “best efforts to ameliorate the impacts”, it hadn’t been able to come up with any meaningful solutions.
Speaking on May 16, the Lord Mayor said, “I want to stress that this is an exceptional response by council to an exceptional set of circumstances.”
“There are no other nightclubs in Melbourne that are open to the sky, that face thousands of apartments across the water in all directions, and it’s fair to say that neither ours nor the state’s rules or regulations were designed to handle or manage or respond to this type of situation,” Cr Capp said.
She said the council had exhausted “every single option within its control”, including hosting a community forum on the issue in March that saw “enormous involvement” from the local community.
“This is about a commitment to our residents in Docklands that we are listening, that we are responding, and that we will continue to work with you,” she said.
“And, of course, assurances to everyone involved that we continue to look at ways that this situation doesn’t get repeated and that we can improve processes into the future.”
Mr Hughes said that the motion on May 16 “was an absolute blindsiding”.
“We were working with the council, we were attending meetings, we’d been asked to come in to work on alternative locations and solutions and we were highly motivated,” he said.
“We’ve wanted to move and change locations since day one; we were never meant to be in this location and we understand the issues that are arising from being there, so we were at the table and then we felt we were left at the table.”
While acknowledging Mr Hughes for showing up to the meeting, Cr Reece said ATET had broken its “social licence” with the community for the scale upon which it had impacted on the community’s health and wellbeing.
Cr Reece also appeared to express frustration with ATET’s inability to change its business model.
“We have not seen a change in the ATET operating model, which I think many of us as councillors would have liked to have seen,” he said.
“The truth is, there are dozens and dozens of successful on-water hospitality operators in Melbourne, from riverboat cruises to party barges to Arbory Afloat, to Yarra Botanicals, and so on, and so on. And, they have all managed to operate very successful businesses without attracting the community outrage which has occurred with ATET.”
“No business in Melbourne operates in a vacuum. All of us in business operate with a social licence and in this case, I think we see a situation where a social licence has been broken.”
Mr Hughes said that a change in business model “was never really indicated to us”.
“We’ve only ever been told we were compliant and that we’ve been working towards a change of location further away where our music events will work,” he said.
“That’s what we’ve been told both by the council and Development Victoria since December, that by mid-year we’ll be moving further away.”
He added that it had always been open to changing its model, but argued its current location limited it to being a “destination venue”.
“The accessibility [to North Wharf] is really poor and foot traffic is non-existent so it’s a destination venue currently in this location and we need to be doing events that people will go that that extra distance for,” he said.
Cr Reece had earlier said that the council would continue to work with state government authorities and ATET to identify alternative operating locations but stressed that it would “need to be away from Victoria Harbour”.
ATET had originally sought to setup its business a few hundred metres further away from apartment towers at the end of North Wharf near the Bolte Bridge but has operated from its temporary location while Development Victoria organises structural works at the wharf.
Despite ongoing pleas to move to its preferred location, it now appears the venue could be forced to move on from Docklands all together, with sites further upstream along Fishermans Bend understood to be under discussion by authorities. •