Revealed: the plan to energise Wollongong

Councillor Ann Martin is looking forward to community feedback on Wollongong council's cultural plan. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER
Councillor Ann Martin is looking forward to community feedback on Wollongong council's cultural plan. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

The future looks bright for Wollongong's creative community and industries, with Wollongong City Council's long-awaited cultural plan released for public exhibition this week.

Incorporating the cultural action plan, the evening economy plan and the live music action plan, the suite of documents proposes a raft of sweeping changes, reforms and updates to energise the city and turn the CBD into a vibrant creative hub.

Among the papers are recommendations for developing a dedicated facility for music festivals, and attracting more music festivals to the region; making it easier and cheaper for council facilities to be hired for public performances; developing a public art strategy; developing a creative arts "hub" in the basement of Wollongong Town Hall; a "night bus" for the southern suburbs; and an extension of hours for the free Gong Shuttle bus.

"We are fascinated to see how people will respond to these reports," said Cr Ann Martin, one of the driving forces behind the cultural plan.

"It's amazing where we are at at the moment as a city. It feels like the ducks are finally lining up. There is a real sense of enthusiasm here now, and the city is changing."

After months of consultations, workshops and meetings with the public and major stakeholders throughout the region, the seven documents are now on display through council.

Aiming to address a range of issues and ideas, from supporting local artists and developing the city's night economy, to pressures on live music venues and attracting tourism to the area, the plans are an update to council's previous 2006-2011 cultural plan.

"It's about how we position the whole city, in a very broad sense of the word, because it's about the crossover between anyone who generates ideas," Cr Martin said.

"It's about how we think about ourselves, how the skill set of the city and residents can move us into the future."

One of the recommendations is to identify underused commercial or industrial spaces that could be transformed into artist workshops, housing for small enterprises or music venues.

Cr Martin said the decline of manufacturing and industry in the Illawarra presented an opportunity for these disused spaces to be reimagined and reborn as creative spaces.

"We know there are vacant buildings, so it's about how they can be used for bands or artists," she said, citing the Carriageworks art space in the old Eveleigh railway yards in Sydney as a successful example.

"We are an industrial city, that's our heart, but some of that architecture can be changed to fit the new creative people emerging here."

The cultural plan is on public exhibition until March 17.

• Create a register of under-utilised property in retail, commercial and industrial zones to establish a program to house micro enterprises.

• More free  Wi-Fi in key outdoor locations in the city centre.

• A Wollongong City Centre app for transport and parking.

• Improve outdoor dining systems.

• Extended evening hours for the Wollongong City Gallery, libraries and Town Hall.

• Attract evening events, including markets, festivals and educational events.

• Remove planning control requirements for a DA for festivals and events on council or Crown land.

• Encourage mediation between residents and venues in case of noise complaints.

Wollongong music scene advocates are hopeful the city’s ‘‘live music action plan’’ can usher in a new era of creativity.

The culmination of 2013’s Live Music Taskforce, the plan includes four pages of ideas to support musicians and venues, from making hiring council facilities more affordable to lowering licensing barriers in establishing music venues.

“That they even put the taskforce together means they recognise live music as important to city life,” said Ben Tillman of Yours & Owls.

“Live music has always had supporters, but now it’s in the face of town leaders. It’s only a matter of time before it filters to the rest of the community.”

Cr Ann Martin hoped council facilities including parks and swimming pools could be used for public performances, while disused industrial or commercial spaces could be turned into music venues.

Other recommendations include developing a dedicated site for music festivals, attracting festivals to the city, and using council channels to further publicise local events and bands.

Music scene advocate Jesse Hunt, however, is most excited about proposals to amend planning rules, which she said would make it easier to start and run a music venue.

“Regulation around licensing and planning is so complex, and where a lot of venues run into trouble,’’ she said.

She cited venues such as The Patch, Yours & Owls café and Good Jelly, all forced to halt or alter live music schedules because of noise or licensing issues. The action plan proposes including noise-reducing measures in new residential developments, and advising new residents they live in an area associated with live music.

“People have been campaigning for a long time for reform. Wollongong has lost a lot of venues, but now it’s time to look forward,” Ms Hunt said.


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