A new plan championed by the City of Sydney aims to support creative enterprises by allowing old buildings to be transformed into creative spaces.

In its discussion paper titled ‘New Ideas for Old Buildings’, the City has outlined six actions that could create a more supportive regulatory environment for Sydney’s creative sector, while ensuring venues remain safe and accessible for organisers and audiences. The paper, which is open for feedback during March and April, considers ways to reduce barriers that prevent creative enterprises from setting up studios, workspaces, galleries, pop-up theatres and similar creative spaces.

Ideas include developing regulatory processes tailored to small creative spaces, providing clearer assessment criteria to speed up development applications, and advocating for changes to state and federal environmental and planning laws for pop-up or temporary projects.

Lord Mayor Clover Moore explained that the City wanted to ease the process for creative Sydneysiders to get their ideas off the ground. Underlining the importance of Sydney’s creative sector to the city’s future, he said NSW was home to 40 per cent of Australia’s creative industries workforce, contributing more than $1.4 billion to the state economy with the bulk of this contribution coming from the City of Sydney area.

The Lord Mayor said smarter regulations were needed that not only maintain high safety standards, but also provide clear and cost-effective ways to adapt older buildings to the needs of a contemporary creative city. He also invited other levels of government, industry groups and the wider cultural community to contribute their own ideas on how all stakeholders could work together to reduce the barriers facing the creative sector.

The New Ideas for Old Buildings discussion paper follows the release of the City’s cultural policy and live music and performance action plan in 2014. Both papers recognise the difficulties faced by creative enterprises in negotiating building regulations and approvals for new and innovative projects. These recommendations were discussed at a forum organised by the City in mid-2015 with more than 120 representatives from the building, planning, creative and small business sectors to identify common problems, as well as potential solutions.

Kerri Glasscock, director of the Sydney Fringe Festival and a member of the City’s live music taskforce, presented to forum participants on her experiences navigating Sydney’s regulatory challenges.

According to Glasscock, the Sydney Fringe Festival faces Sydney’s growing venue crisis every year with rising real-estate costs, overly burdensome regulations and increased costs of living reducing the profit margin of operating culturally-focused venues.

She notes that the discussion paper addresses practical solutions that would enable artists to think outside the box, redefine the traditional performance space and use available, affordable spaces that until now have been unavailable to the performing arts sector. Glasscock added that the use of existing properties will encourage a varied night-time economy and reinvigorate the city’s struggling high streets, while filling a gaping hole in the local venue ecosystem, without major investment in new infrastructure.

Another live music taskforce member, urban geographer and planner Dr Kate Shaw also addressed the forum, discussing how Sydney could follow the lead of other global cities facing similar challenges. She said places such as Berlin and London are changing their regulatory systems in response to the trend of artists moving into older buildings and giving them a new purpose.

Commenting on the barriers presented by Australian building and planning systems that treat the conversion of old warehouses or shopfronts into a theatre or gallery on par with regulations governing large nightclubs or sports stadiums, she said the creative sector needed a regulatory system designed for small-scale cultural uses that covered a much broader array of cultural activity beyond bars or pop-up shops.

New Ideas for Old Buildings is on public exhibition until 29 April.

Responses to the discussion paper will guide the City’s future advocacy of regulatory reform at the local, state and federal levels, as well as the ongoing implementation of initiatives from the cultural policy and live music and performance action plan.