The business community in Sydney’s Kings Cross is pleading for a relaxation of the controversial lockout laws and the scrapping of an ID scanning system which it says are destroying their livelihood and their area.
The spate of alcohol-fuelled violence that led to new laws and ID scanners first being introduced has now disappeared, they say, and with the closure and conversion of many of the nightclubs and bars into residential apartments, the streets are quieter.
“Kings Cross has been transformed into a much more residential area, with foot traffic down by 80 per cent, according to the City of Sydney,” said Carrington Brigham, executive chairman of the local chamber of commerce, the Potts Point Partnership. “So these kind of measures can’t be justified any longer.
“We’re a great destination with entertainment and culinary experiences, but small businesses are facing huge challenges to survive. We have the lock-out laws and the ID scanners that have to be used for everyone after 9pm admissions, but they’re just no longer relevant. Now’s the time to find the right balance between residents, business and a destination that offers food, culture, entertainment and fun.”
But many of the clubs, bars and restaurants that remain are having trouble attracting customers because of the restrictions the laws, introduced in 2014 with 1.30am lockouts and 3am last drinks, place on their commercial premises.
There are also currently many mixed restaurant and bar venues in the area that aren’t allowed to admit customers without their ID being scanned on arrival after 9pm.
At the 200-seat Thai Rock Restaurant on Bayswater Road, for instance, diners – especially locals – often turn up expecting to be able to have a quiet meal, but then have to be individually ID-scanned post that 9pm deadline.
“The trouble is that a lot of people pay with their phones these days, so they don’t actually carry ID on them,” said owner David Boyd of the restaurant, which opened in December 2018. “So I just can’t let them in, even if they say they really don’t want to drink, they just want a meal.
“We regularly have groups of people turn up too for dinner, and one in the group won’t have ID, so no one comes in. It’s atrocious really. I have to turn away so much business. And we have a lot of elderly people who want to come here, but they still seem to be viewed as a potential violent risk, even though some of them couldn’t run 10 paces.”
It’s a similar story too for the six-month-old New York lounge-style bar and restaurant Limited, on Kellett Street.
Owner Nathaniel Bourke says it’s been a constant struggle to survive as people are more likely to choose to go out in the evening in a neighbouring suburb like Double Bay, which doesn’t have any of the hassles of the lock-out laws.
“We hoped to attract a lot of locals but a lot of them baulk against the ID scanner as they don’t like to be treated as potential criminals,” he said. “Also, we only have one scanner and it’s so slow, so it’s hard to actually get people in when they arrive.”
In an effort to keep the business viable, Limited started advertising their food offering, so customers could order from the menu at home, and delivery drivers could call in at the backdoor of the building on Darlinghurst Road and then drop off the meals to people’s homes. That was stymied, however, when the drivers arrived after 9pm and found they too had to be ID scanned in order to enter the premises.
“People always say you have to adapt to the times in business, but that’s proved absolutely impossible,” said Bourke. “This situation is literally ridiculous.
“Even when people are here, they might nip out for a cigarette and, because they left their wallet with their ID inside, find they can’t get back in again. There has to be change.”
The Potts Pint Partnership is now lobbying the NSW government for the lockout laws to be reviewed so the night-time economy can thrive again, relaxing them to 3am for patronage over 200 for the next five years. They also want to see the removal of bans on purchasing spirits after midnight, and the immediate removal of all ID scanners in the Kings Cross zone.
They’re happy to see the stringent process for issuing liquor licences continued for venues that cater to over 200 customers, and would like to start a “Good Neighbour” policy with the City of Sydney to reduce noise complaints and to see Destination NSW inject some tourism funding.
Deputy chair of the partnership Daniel Hakim, who runs the business CUB club on Kings Cross Road, says in order for Sydney to be a true world-class city, it needs a decent nightlife.
“We need to have an area where there’s a variety of night-time activities which will depend on relaxing the lockout laws, and getting rid of the scanners which are a real invasion of privacy,” he said. “They continue to affect a lot of businesses here.
“Kings Cross will never return to what it once was, but it needs to move in a positive direction. Melbourne has South Yarra which is very similar in some ways, but Kings Cross can only thrive in Sydney with these urgent changes.”
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