Compromise is music to our ears

A vibrant live music scene is adding zing and zest to Canberra’s cultural life. Live music contributes to Canberra’s growing reputation as a creative city, attracts young people, provides entertainment options, generates jobs and provides many small businesses with a valuable income stream.

But it is also a growing source of conflict. People are increasingly attracted to the buzz of inner city life, but are less impressed when that buzz is ringing in their ears at 3am.

This isn't an issue just for the denizens of Dickson during music festivals or the neighbours of New Acton during the summer jazz series. Live music can be heard throughout Canberra – from choir rehearsals and tap classes at community halls to primary school pianists and garage bands jamming in suburban streets. And with live music comes noise complaints.

A single complaint can cost music venues thousands of dollars. In some cases, conflict between residents and venues has only abated when the music has been silenced permanently. 

As a community, we’ll need to grapple with this issue as the pattern of our land use changes. Larger houses are being replaced by town houses and units, bringing neighbours closer together. Commercial and industrial areas are being rezoned for residential development.

Investment in sound proofing is an obvious solution, and the ACT Government should consider financial support for smaller venues to help them upgrade their acoustic treatments. But there are other solutions too.

We can also review the way offensive noise is defined, reassess our noise curfews and establish mediation processes between venues and disgruntled residents to find compromises. 

And people who move into lively inner-city precincts must also acknowledge that they will experience more late night noise than they would in the sleepy outer suburbs.

Balancing everyone’s needs is part and parcel of being in a community – and compromise can ensure harmony is restored and that live music is an integral part of Canberra’s cultural scene.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia