The Show Must Go On!:A five point plan to kick-start NSW’s ailing live performance venues

The Western Sydney Business Chamber has today launched a new paper calling for Government to take action to support the retention and expansion of live performance venues across the State.
The report, The Show Must Go On: Supporting the Growth of Live Performance in NSW, was commissioned by the Western Sydney Business Chamber and highlights the perilous state of live performance venues in NSW which is in chronic decline at the same time that demand for live music and performance is growing.
David Borger, Executive Director of the Western Sydney Business Chamber, said, “A city without music and live performance is a city without soul – it’s time for government to focus its attention on how we can bring the beat back to our CBDs and main streets.”
“We have a problem in NSW with a lack of appropriate venues for life performance. We lack theatres, both big and small, and what venues we do have, are not adequately distributed across the State.
“Communities across Western Sydney and NSW are wanting to attend musical theatre and other forms of live entertainment but our State’s planning system has failed to provide or allow the tools to be used by venues and local councils to provide these platforms.
“Height concessions, transferable development rights, infrastructure contribution levies and partnerships were once some of the tools available to build our historic venues that has now been closed off. It’s time to open them back up before we go backwards even further and lose what we already have.”
Mr Borger said in Queensland, live performance is experiencing a double digit annual growth, granted off a lower starting point, and Victoria is going from strength to strength. In live theatre alone, Victorians bought more than twice the number of tickets last year than NSW residents. What are we doing so wrong in NSW?
“I like Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence as much as the next person but that shouldn’t be the reality of our main streets and CBDs in the night time economy,” Mr Borger said.
“In a growing city like Parramatta, we are now twice the size but only half the fun because we’ve failed to hold the line of protecting and nurturing music and performance. Many of our existing venues are closed, or threatened with closure.
“Great entertainment venues like the Spanish mission style Roxy Theatre could be given a new lease on life as a live performance venue in the heart of Parramatta if the government steps in with a rescue package – instead the future of such an iconic building is sadly limited to serving beer and cocktails in the forecourt.
“We’d like to see the NSW Government establish a competitive fund that would allow private venue operators to get funding for capital works and programming. A ticket tax, co-contributions or even philanthropic donations are all options to help fund our performance venues and grow the market.
“It is time for us to change the underlying economics of providing live performance infrastructure if we are going to rebuild the once vibrant live performance industry we had in NSW,” Mr Borger said.
The key recommendations of the report are:

1. State and Local Governments should prioritise live performance infrastructure in their planning and development controls, including;
• FSR and height concessions for new development which provide new theatres and performances spaces;
• Establish a Transferable Development Rights system for trading heritage and airspace rights to support the retention of historic venues;
• Amend the State and Council development contributions schemes to include live performance infrastructure as being an eligible typology for contributions and developer levies;
• Remove State Government restrictions on Local Council partnering with the private sector to develop new theatre and live performance spaces.

2. State and Local regulators should adopt measures that foster a safe and vibrant live performance industry including;
• Establishing and supporting precincts where live performance is actively encouraged and to support clustering of venues and theatres;
• Agent of change rules – for example insuring that lively entertainment precincts are acknowledged in Section 149 Certificates (Wollongong and Sydney Olympic Park templates);
• Later night trading for venues which provide live performance;
• Streamlined and coordinated complaints processes for noise complaints.

3. Establish a fund to allow private venue operators and emerging artists to apply for grants for capital and programming. The fund could include a number of sources including a ticket tax based on similar schemes in London and Paris, financial support from State and Local Government and philanthropic donations.

4. State and Local Council’s to undertake a census of live performance venues across NSW to provide a clear snapshot of the state of the industry and to identify gaps in infrastructure provision.

5. Encourage and incentivise Universities to provide theatres and venues in their campus expansion and investment programmes. Universities should be required to develop a cultural plan when they are seeking approval for the development of new campuses.

Chris Taylor

Senior Manager, Advocacy, Western Sydney

Chris has worked for a number of Australia’s leading industry organisations and has vast experience in media, communications and external relations. With a strong interest in politics and policy, Chris aims to advocate for ideas that will grow economic opportunities in Western Sydney, in particular in the tourism, infrastructure and arts industries.