A City of Sydney creative space

The City of Sydney has released a discussion paper on ways to promote the adaptation of older buildings for creative use by small enterprises.

The New Ideas for Old Buildings discussion paper takes findings from the city’s 2015 Creative Spaces and the Built Environment Forum, and provides suggestions for how the city can create a regulatory environment conducive to accommodating small creative enterprise, such as art galleries, performance spaces, music venues, co-working spaces, startups and social enterprises.

Part of the problem, the paper finds, is that current Building Code of Australia and health, safety and fire regulations provide “unreasonable financially prohibitive restrictions on new venues to operate, particularly in Sydney”. This is throwing up sometimes insurmountable barriers for potential creative enterprise.

An example, it says, is a small theatre occupying a warehouse that could be assessed against standards designed for the construction of a new stadium or major public hall. These regulations can be expensive, time consuming and confusing for small business.

“Our regulation of the built environment influences not only how buildings are constructed, but how easily existing buildings can change their function in response to cultural and economic trends,” the paper says. “This has become a particular issue as Australia continues to grow its cultural, knowledge and creative sectors. New business models are emerging which do not easily fit into existing planning and building classifications, placing new pressures on our current regulatory framework.”

While building codes are designed to provide safety for building inhabitants, and consent authorities like local councils are provided scope to divert from it when assessing old building use change, there is a lack of models available for councils to outline suitable safety standards. For example, the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulations say a consent authority “is to take into consideration whether it would be appropriate to require the existing building to be brought into total or partial conformity with the Building Code of Australia”.

When it is “appropriate” to exercise discretion, however, is proving difficult for councils.

“Trying to define acceptable standards through which an old building can be used for a new purpose requires building professionals and local government building certifiers to assess fire risk, structural factors, disability access, environmental impact and a host of other elements with no clear guidelines,” the paper says.

The challenges and expense in attempting to reuse older buildings is a particular problem for the creative sector, a large proportion of which cannot afford new builds.

The council has begun a dialogue to move towards what it calls “smarter, effective and efficient regulations” for the 21st century. It has proposed six actions to help produce a better regulatory environment for small creative enterprises to adapt existing buildings for new, creative purposes:

  • Increase understanding of the challenges faced when adapting existing buildings for new creative uses
  • Strengthen relationships for a solution focused dialogue
  • Promote participation of people with a disability as artists and audience members
  • Develop and implement processes to support the adaption of existing buildings for new, creative purposes
  • Provide resources that clarify the regulatory environment associated with creative spaces
  • Advocate to NSW and federal government stakeholders for clearer regulatory pathways for small and low-risk creative enterprise

The City of Sydney is calling for feedback on its proposals. See the discussion paper for further information. Submissions close 29 April 2016.

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  1. I find this article really lacking.
    The building code applies to new buildings, and new building works, it is the NSW and council regulations that place limits on when and where this should apply to old buildings, not to mention adding further requirements above and beyond those in the code. I think there is a gross misunderstanding of the regulatory system in place here, and far too much finger pointing at other organisations to fix the problems.

  2. Such a reassuring story. We have faced so many ‘unknown fears’ about our repurposing of an old building and great to finally have a constructive discussion being initiated.