A cold and wet Sunday that would keep most people inside didn’t stop dedicated music fans from staging a protest yesterday in resistance to a chill wind emanating from Dunedin City Council.

The council, which is dragging the chain on introducing a live-music action plan, has approved an application that will see apartments built next to the Crown Hotel, one of the city’s shrinking number of music venues and a nursery for up-and-coming bands.

Although work on the multi-use four-storey building in Rattray St hasn’t yet begun, David Bennett of Save Dunedin Live Music, set up after nearby venue Bark was plagued by noise complaints, can see the writing on the wall for the Crown.

“Over the last 10 years or so there has been an erosion of music venues in the town and it is getting quite dire at this point,” he said on RNZ National’s Music 101 ahead of the protest.

“There have been many contributing factors but noise has certainly played a role.”

The Crown Hotel and empty section for which apartments, shops and offices are planned. Photo: Anthony Doesburg

The threat to the Crown drew dozens of people to a stage in the Octagon in central Dunedin where bands and speakers braved the conditions to encourage the protesters to email the council in support of the pub.

Bennett told RNZ his group has been meeting for the past year with the council over the live-music plan, which has been held up for some reason unknown to him.

Last December, Mayor Aaron Hawkins told Newsroom that a report on the action plan would go to a council budget meeting in late January this year “looking at how we might continue to resource that work”. But nothing concrete has come of it.

The council website trumpets the city’s “thriving and internationally respected music sector [which] ranges from counterculture in the footsteps of the Dunedin Sound to the esteemed Southern Sinfonia”. But according to Bennett, in the past two decades support for the music scene has withered away.

“It’s a rare thing around the world for a city to be recognised for its own music scene. It’s a massive part of Dunedin’s history and the council still banks on it.”

There has been one potentially hopeful signal in a July news story in the Otago Daily Times in which Hawkins is quoted as saying planning suggestions arising from the live-music action plan deliberations included a proposal to strengthen the performance standard for acoustic insulation.

That could give occupants of new apartments close to music venues less reason to complain about noise.

Heartened but not hopeful

Jones Chin, who with Crown co-owner and brother Sam was at the Octagon protest, was heartened by the show of support. However, he is under no illusions about the potential for trouble from next-door neighbours.

Although it might be possible to keep band noise within acceptable limits, he says the likelihood remains of complaints about pub patrons who gather on the street outside to smoke and talk.

Crown Hotel proprietor Jones Chin. Photo: Anthony Doesburg

As Bennett told RNZ National, it’s the Chins’ willingness to put any new band that shows up on the stage that makes the Crown irreplaceable. It’s the only venue for bands playing “really out-there stuff”.

“Without it they would have nowhere to play.

“It’s one of the only venues in town where you can rock up with a full band and say, ‘We want to play a date.’ Jones will just get out the book and find the next available day for you.”

That support was acknowledged by Masin, vocalist of Crown regulars Black-Sale House, which performed at the Octagon protest, with a shout-out to “Jonesy”.

Dunedin’s music scene remains “incredibly good” according to Bennett, but it needs the regulatory roadblocks removed.

“We’re going to be asking the council to hurry up and start enacting regulations and town-planning goals favouring live music as much as they do development.”

* Made with the support of the Public Interest Journalism Fund

Anthony Doesburg is a Dunedin-based freelance journalist.

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