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Sydney city at dusk
Photograph: Holder/Usplash

Sydney to finally become a true 24-hour city

Less than a year after the disastrous lockout laws were repealed, Sydney has a new plan to turn it on all night

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It could be said that Sydney's nightlife has flourished despite, not because of, government policy. Devastating lockout laws forced many of Sydney's businesses to stop late-night operations for six years before those laws were (mostly) repealed in January of this year, and successive governments have not historically been friendly to the idea of all-night culture. But now the NSW government has launched an ambitious plan to finally turn Sydney into a true 24-hour city.

Recent events have, of course, taken an enormous toll on Sydney's hospitality industry, but the crisis has also provided an opportunity for investment in the city's struggling nightlife scene. Michael Rodrigues, chair of hospitality lobbying group the Night Time Industries Association (and managing director of Time Out Australia), says now is exactly the right time to turn Sydney into a globally recognised all-night city: "In an era of lockdowns and curfews, talking about a 24-hour city might seem strange, but now is exactly the time to transform Sydney’s nightlife," he says. "Sydney’s night-time sectors have suffered enormously... but we now have a plan to build back better and stronger.”

The NSW government has announced a coordinator general role, tasked with driving the 24-Hour Economy Strategy and bringing together stakeholders from local government, the arts, retail, hospitality and other interested parties to cut red tape and implement real policy changes to allow for an always-on Sydney. The strategy involves accessible late-night public transport, later licences and opening hours for venues, and fewer restrictions on live music venues. Recommendations also include better lighting and a pilot program to transform some footpaths and public space into outdoor dining space, art installations or mini-parks. 

“This strategy aims to drive investment, create jobs and attract more businesses to the CBD and surrounding suburbs, laying the groundwork for our state’s economic recovery so we can keep more businesses in business and people in jobs," says NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet.

Minister for jobs, investment, tourism and Western Sydney Stuart Ayres says the virus's impact on Sydney has made it more important than ever for the city to take its place among the great cities of the world. "Sydneysiders deserve a global city that’s thriving 24 hours a day, and the world wants a 24-hour Sydney," he says. "We are going to turbocharge Sydney by working closely with industry and councils to implement the 39 actions across the strategy’s five strategic pillars so the productivity of the night can rival that of the day, to create more employment opportunities in arts, entertainment and cultural events throughout the evening."

The NTIA was created with the goal of realising Sydney's potential as a 24-hour city and was instrumental in lobbying both for the repeal of the lockout laws and the NSW government adopting a 24-hour strategy for the city. 

“Our nightlife used to be the butt of national jokes, but those days have gone. A process that began with ending lockouts and freeing up regulation has now delivered a detailed and coherent vision for the 24-hour economy," says Rodrigues.

“In so many other cities the night is seen as something to be embraced, a time for people to meet, be creative and have fun. We now have the chance to reimagine that negative brand with a nightlife that can deliver all that and more.”

You can learn more about the NSW government's vision for Sydney's 24-hour economy by listening to the latest episode of the Time Out for Business podcast, as Time Out managing director Michael Rodrigues speaks to the Committee for Sydney's James Hulme and Ross Harley.

Want to enjoy some brilliant live music in Sydney right now? Here are some venues kicking up their (socially distanced) heels

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