Small bars – now finally to become a reality!

The NSW parliament has recently passed the Liquor Amendment (Small Bars) Act 2013 which will see a new category of “small bar” licence introduced for the first time in NSW. 

Contrary to popular belief, there is currently no such thing as a “small bar” licence in NSW.  But the good news is that there soon will be – with the Liquor Amendment (Small Bars) Act 2013 (Small Bars Act) being passed by parliament on 13 March 2013 and assented to last week.  It will commence on a day yet to be proclaimed.

Although Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore had been publicly agitating for a special category of licence for “small bars”, and a simplified application process, what the government actually introduced back in 2007 with the Liquor Act 2007 (Liquor Act) was simply a slight variation on the standard hotel licence.  A “general bar” licence was created, which was essentially a hotel without gaming machines or take away sales of liquor.  There was no limit on the number of patrons, and no simplified application process.

The new Small Bars Act introduces a new category of licence for a “small bar” which is licence is essentially no gaming and no take away sales of liquor but with a limit of 60 patrons.

The standard trading hours for a small bar are different to a hotel or general bar – midday to midnight 7 days a week, compared to 5am to midnight Monday-Saturday and 10am to 10pm Sunday. 

Significantly, however all small bars outside of freeze precincts will automatically be granted extended trading hours to allow them to operate until 2am.  Small bars within freeze precincts will be exempted from the freeze (this continues the amendments made to the freeze provisions late last year) and although they will not automatically be granted extended trading until 2am, they will be able to make an application for extended trading hours.

Many applications that obtain DA approval will then be exempted from the requirement to carry out a community impact assessment under the Liquor Act.

The exemption from the community impact assessment process is very significant.  It essentially means that where a small bar receives development consent, the liquor licence will generally follow as a matter of course, without the need for a further detailed and lengthy application process under the Liquor Act.

However, where development consent is required for a small bar, applicants should expect local councils to play a larger role in the assessment of community impact and the consideration of issues such as the social impacts of liquor and the concentration of licensed premises in the locality.  The government has said that planning guidelines will be issued to local councils to assist in their consideration of liquor issues when small bars are proposed.

It is important to note that a small bar is a type of food and drink premises, and as such where a premises has an existing development consent for a food and drink premises, it may be possible to change the use to a small bar as exempt development.  In this case community impact statement will be required under the Liquor Act but an applicant will be spared the time and expense of the development application process. 

However where a small bar may be exempt development, the trading hours will be limited to the trading hours of the previously approved commercial use.  In most cases this is unlikely to be 2am, so applicants wanting late trading will need to be careful not to be caught out on trading hours.  If 2am trading is sought, this will often require development consent.

Applicants will need to consider whether or not development consent is required for a small bar use, as this will determine which route their application will take. 

Although the development application can often be more political than the application process under the Liquor Act, there are clearer avenues of appeal in relation to development applications and an ability to appeal a deemed or actual refusal to the Land and Environment Court.

The good news is that the Small Bars Act will effectively do away with the dual layer approval system currently required for these types of venues and will hopefully reduce red tape and application costs for small bars.

Smaller venues (with a capacity of 60 patrons or less) that currently have general bar licences will have a period of 6 months in which to seek to have their licences converted to small bar licences.  Any conditions of their current licences will carry over to the new small bar licence.  The benefit of converting to a small bar licence is that, outside of freeze precincts, the licence hours will automatically be extended to 2am.  However, where the development consent for those premises does not permit trading until 2am, the venue will not be able to trade those extended hours unless development consent for extended hours is also obtained.

The Small Bars Act has been a long time coming, and should be a welcome development for small operators who are often confounded by the time, cost and complexity involved in seeking approval for a small bar.

Live music venues – will they finally be cut a break?

It’s not easy being a live music venue these days – especially when the neighbourhood surrounding you becomes gentrified or when the local council approves new residential development on your doorstep, resulting in neighbour, police and local council complaints and opposition.

The fact is, most small music venues find it hard just to make ends meet, and they usually simply do not have the money required to tackle local council opposition.  Even Sydney’s iconic live music pub, the Annandale Hotel, was not able to keep its head afloat, after many costly run ins with Leichhardt Municipal Council.

But now Leichhardt Municipal Council has had a change of heart, it seems.  It resolved last week to follow in the footsteps of the City of Sydney, which last year established a Live Music Taskforce, with the aim of “develop[ing] a live music and live performance action plan to address barriers for live music providers and propose solutions to support the sustainability and vibrancy of this sector”.  One issue that the Taskforce will specifically report on is the best ways to support live music and/or small-scale live performance, particularly in relation to the management of the potential conflict between noise and homes close to live music venues.

The Taskforce is due to deliver its report to the City of Sydney in July 2013.

Leichhardt Municipal Council, perhaps inspired by the imminent loss of the Annandale Hotel, last week resolved to throw its weight behind Support Live Music Australia (SLAM), an apolitical lobby group for live music, and to do its part to support live music venues.  So what does that entail?  

  1. Writing to the leaders of all state and federal political parties in support of SLAM’s recommendations to create a vibrant local live music scene;
  2. Working with the Member for Balmain to support the Annandale Hotel remaininga live music venue; and
  3. Supporting the “agent of change” principle which would place the onus of noisemitigation on new residential development in the vicinity of live music venues,rather than on the venues themselves.  This would involve changing the localplanning controls to ensure that encroaching residential development bears theonus of acoustic insulation.

Nothing concrete has yet come of this recent show of support for live music venues, but these developments are very promising for an industry which has been under siege for many years.  Perhaps there is finally a light shining at the end of the tunnel.  We will watch this space with interest.