Iconic venue ... the Baby Animals, fronted by Suze DeMarchi, play the Annandale Hotel last year. Photo: Ashley Mar
What do you do if a local bar puts on a singer you don't much like the sound of? Have a chat to the owner? Or take them to court? So many of us are taking the legal route first that the NSW Parliament has been asked to intervene.
Hoodoo Guru Dave Faulkner, shadow minister for the environment and planning Luke Foley, and Leichhardt's rock'n'roll mayor, Darcy Byrne, held a press conference at the NSW Parliament on Thursday urging a statewide rollout of Cr Byrne's Good Neighbour policy, which calls for monthly meetings between the operators of music venues and residents.
If there is a rule that people have to sit down and talk first, most people would be surprised to find the person across the table is not an ogre.
This could be done, Mr Foley said, with a new law or regulation, or an amendment to the Protection of the Environment Operations Act.
"The way the law is structured at the moment, you can run off to a local court for a noise abatement order," said Foley.
"We want [the state government] to change that so the parties have to sit around a table and resolve the matter before anyone runs off to court.
"The irony is it's often the person who makes the most noise about it that gets heard rather than the silent majority."
Faulkner said music evoked a far stronger reaction than other kinds of noise.
"People seem to be willing to put up with industrial, building and traffic noise, but if someone is listening to a piece of music they don't like, that is deeply offensive and they try to stop it."
The proposed change would mostly affect suburbs with a mix of homes and music venues (including nightclubs) such as Surry Hills, Darlinghurst, parts of the CBD, Newtown, Enmore, Erskineville and Annandale – home to the Annandale Hotel.
Dan and Matt Rule lost ownership of the latter venue in February after claiming to have paid more than $200,000 in legal fees arising from hearings over noise complaints.
Faulkner said the complaints about the Annandale were "thrown out because they found out Parramatta Road was noisier than the venue".
Cr Byrne said several venues that had closed in Sydney in recent years, including the Sandringham and Hopetoun hotels, were burdened by the high legal costs of fighting prosecutions imposed by councils, often acting on behalf of disgruntled residents.
“Councils have been costing ratepayers and licensees hundreds of thousands of dollars through unnecessary legal action. This plan will allow noise complaints between residents and venues to be resolved over a coffee or a beer rather than in the courts.”
While Mr Foley said there might be a case to change planning laws to allow louder music in parts of Sydney, including the proposed live music precinct on Parramatta Road, the Good Neighbour plan did not include any change to existing noise limits. "This is about sending a message of mediation before litigation."
Mark Gerber, founder of one of Sydney's most successful medium-sized music venues, the Oxford Art Factory, said residents' concerns "get out of hand" when there is no communication.
"We had meetings with the council and police and neighbours and through having adult discussions . . . and finding out what the concerns were we brought about solutions. One concern was we would bring more people to the area, which might result in loitering in laneways . . . so we put patrols on.
"If there is a rule that people have to sit down and talk first, most people would be surprised to find the person across the table is not an ogre. They might actually be trying to do something good for the community and the culture of the city."