Mayor Darcy Byrne talks pedestrianisation and community gatherings in the Inner West
“You can walk up the road and see hundreds of your neighbours”
By Isabella Edwards
We spoke with Mayor Darcy Byrne about his efforts to bring more community-minded events to the Inner West, as well as why it’s important to maintain the area's pub culture and why making the streets more pedestrian-focused is the way forward.
Following the success of the 2022 Marrickville Music Festival on 19 November, Mayor Byrne had this to say:
“The crowds really flocked down there, which I think is indicative of the fact that people are really keen to come back together through community events and Main Street activity following COVID-19.”
When asked if the residents could expect to see more community events in the future, the Mayor said:
“The Marrickville Music Festival will be back again next year. We have the Espresso Chorus, who have traditionally held a very large-scale outdoor Christmas carols event on Norton Street in Leichhardt — they are coming to host two concerts in December at Marrickville Town Hall.”
“We also want to go further than just annual festivals by having more regular street closures and pedestrianising main streets on a bi-monthly or quarterly basis, and that's a project we’re working on intensively.”
The pandemic prompted a boom in outdoor living in response to capacity limits and indoor restrictions. However, the Mayor has acknowledged that the high cost of outdoor events has been a disincentive for businesses and councils.
“I think we need to make sure we get the policy settings right so that we encourage more use of our public spaces and streets for community gatherings. Now that the COVID-19 situation is a lot safer, there’s a real hunger from local people and people across Sydney and Australia for more community events.”
“We are working systematically to look through how we can reduce those costs, and we proposed to the NSW government that there be a pilot, here in the Inner West, of a programme to have more pedestrianisation of main streets.”
“We want the inner West to become the alfresco dining capital of Sydney and pedestrianisation of main streets is a really good way to work towards that goal.”
Currently, the Inner West council website promotes many outdoor community events and activities, such as the free Newtown Walking Tour.
“One of the main reasons people love living in and visiting the Inner West is that our streets are such fun, vibrant and interesting places. If you live here, you can walk up the road to your Main Street and see hundreds of your neighbours and spend time in the public domain, in a way that is very social.
“Walking tours are another great example of something that we should be supporting and promoting and making it easier for local community organisations to hold, and that will be part of the plan as well next year.”
Another part of the Inner West’s identity is its historic pub scene. Recently, the council voted to heritage-list 27 pubs in addition to the 31 already protected.
“In recent years, for the first time ever, we’ve seen a trend towards pubs being converted for other business uses or for residential development, and we want to counteract that. The message we're trying to send to prospective pub owners is that if you buy a pub in the Inner West, be prepared to operate it as a pub.”
“These hotels, many of which have been in existence for more than a century, are really integral to the Inner West and the inner city. We don't want to see that famous pub culture going out the back door,” said the Mayor.
However, these protections do not enforce how the pub must operate. Lately, the Inner West has seen a rise in integrating pubs with other businesses, such as The Exchange in Balmain, which recently closed its doors after an attempt at using the building as a co-working and bar space. Mayor Byrne had this to say of heritage protections:
“It protects both the façade of the building and the internal fittings, such as the public bar, so it is much more difficult to simply convert a pub into office space once it has been heritage listed. But it does still allow flexibility for a different hospitality use or a different mix of uses within a pub.
The Exchange has since been approved to be used as a pub and boutique hotel. Mayor Byrne recognised this revision to traditional hotel usage as “a really good thing for our local economy.”
The Mayor is also tackling the enemy of pubs and live music venues: noise complaints. The council is combating such complaints with their “Good Neighbour Policy”, which sees residents and licensees meet to resolve their issues through mitigation rather than litigation.
“The reason that we created our policy is that there are lots of examples of famous live music venues across Sydney that have gone under because of the legal costs of having to fight against noise complaints.”
“In NSW, the system allows for someone who’s making a complaint about noise at a live music venue or a pub to go through multiple different government agencies. Not just the council but also the licencing police and the liquor regulator, and other agencies as well. So, the costs of fending off those complaints, which are sometimes vexatious, became prohibitive for lots of Sydney’s most famous live music venues,” said Mayor Byrne.
It's clear the council is looking to improve the spirit of the Inner West and the appeal of main streets. Notably, the Mayor is looking to implement reduced rates for main street landlords who keep their dwellings tenanted, subsidised by higher rates for those who leave their buildings empty — which would require an amendment to the Local Government Act.
When asked how this would benefit the area, Mayor Byrne said:
“When main street landlords choose to keep their properties untenanted for long periods, those empty shopfronts have a detrimental effect on the whole Main Street economy. It drives down pedestrian traffic and lowers the vibe of a main street if there are many shopfronts which are shuttered and empty.”
Regarding improving community sentiment, the Mayor has said that he wants to see more involvement from residents.
“It shouldn't be the council working from the top-down hosting events we control. We need more creativity coming from the bottom-up with local businesses, organisations and residents coming up with ideas.”
This follows the events of Saturday night when the council held a viewing of the match between the Socceroos and Tunisia — an idea brought to the council by two residents.
“It was fantastic for local businesses. Local cafes and restaurants were chock-a-block with patrons who then came out to watch the game afterwards.”
You can contact the Inner West council via their website to share any ideas.