Taking on council over Lawson community hall

Plans for a series of concerts in the Lawson community hall have been thrown into disarray by council, which insists that only a maximum of 35 people can see each show unless it grants special exemption.

But Lawson’s 377 committee intends to press ahead with a planned classical guitar concert this weekend, even if more than 35 people turn up.

It has also launched a petition on change.org to overturn council’s decision.

The committee had applied for an exemption on the restriction for its autumn season but it was rejected by the “premises review panel” of council “due to the increase in potential risk” with a larger audience.

Lawson solicitor and chairman of the 377 committee, John Sheehy, said the council had previously granted exemptions and there had been a number of concerts that had attracted more patrons without incident.

“This is just absurd,” he said. “People are just at boiling point.

“Council says it has no capital or maintenance budget yet refuses our attempt to raise money. It must be a first in Australian history to have a council deny its citizens the right to hold a fundraiser for the public benefit.”

The 35 limit was imposed in 2012 when the old Mechanics Institute hall reopened because of limited parking in the area. But Mr Sheehy said there was ample parking in the town centre just a few minutes walk away. He also pointed out that other venues in the Mountains, including Mt Vic Flicks and Blackheath Hall, have limited or no parking.

It appears that the committee’s bid to schedule a full season of events has been the stumbling block, with a council spokeswoman said there was a “formal mechanism’’ for larger-scale events to be considered “on a case by case basis”.

“It is evident that a large number of the events proposed by the 377 committee had been months in the planning and publicly promoted prior to their request being received by council and certainly before consent was granted. Council was surprised and disappointed that a formal committee of the council has seemingly taken this deliberate approach.”

While council acknowledged that cancelling any public event was “regrettable”, hall bookings “must be undertaken in accordance with council policy and procedures in the interest of fairness and public safety”, she said.

But Mr Sheehy said the only way they could attract sponsorship was to promote a whole season of shows, rather than single concerts.

“It’s the only way to make money. We tried one-off but one Friday the weather was atrocious and no one came out. With a whole season, we could make up that money on another show.”

Volunteers had worked hard on the hall,  installing curtains from the old Springwood Civic Centre, painting, gardening and donating equipment including microwaves, stoves and a piano.

“This is destroying community initiative. There is no logical reason to it,” Mr Sheehy said.

The committee intends to go ahead with two planned concerts by international guitarist Simon Powes this weekend “as a matter of civil disobedience to a bad, unreasonable and unjustifiable decision” and a complaint has been lodged with the local government ombudsman. 

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