Residents of the apartment block next to the Sydney Opera House have been complaining that Australia’s most famous building is ruining their sleep.
Bennelong Apartments – better know to many Sydneysiders as “the Toaster” – is one of the city’s most expensive and prestigious addresses, overlooking Circular Quay, Harbour Bridge, and of course Jorn Utzon’s world-famous performing arts centre. The penthouse sold last year for $22 million to hotelier Sam Arnaout, CEO of IRIS Capital.
The apartment block was a controversial 1990s development for its size, scale and proximity to the Opera House. Those public concerns saw former PM Paul Keating intervene with a compromise at saw the building take over public land to keep its height down.
One of the most vocal critics at the time was radio broadcaster Alan Jones. Now he lives there and is complaining about the concerts put on by his neighbour, which in November 1979, hosted 100,000 people at the legendary Concert of the Decade.
Former Macquarie Bank director Bill Moss and Jones are among residents who’ve taken aim at the Opera House management and celebrity chef Matt Moran, who co-owns and operates Opera Bar, claiming they are responsible for a range of planning breaches that put the building and its World Heritage status at risk, according to The Weekend Australian.
Bill Moss is a member of the Sydney Opera House Concerned Citizens Group, which has accused the Opera House management of a “culture of lies, denials and cover-ups” in letters to the New South Wales government and even UNESCO, which is responsible for 2007 World Heritage listing.
Moss told the newspaper that Opera House management were “slowly subdividing off its premises and selling it to commercial interests”.
Jones complained the area was “like a bomb site” and “eyesore” for nearly a third of the year.
Another resident, Corey Cooney, wrote to the Department of Planning about being “completely unsuccessful in being able to have some basic rights as residents”, despite “numerous complaints” including heritage, excessive noise, security and the “use of alcohol in children and families areas”.
He complained about the “post-event noise of patrons leaving the premises drunk and disorderly, late at night, which affects our sleep and wellbeing as residents”.
“Such noise and disruption is evident even with doors and blinds closed, furthermore affecting my basic sleep and that of my family,” he wrote.
“My family and I have the right to relax in our own home without having trucks and concert operations causing disturbance into the early hours of the morning.”
The Trashing of the Opera House
Further grievances are listed in a document called “The Trashing of the Opera House”, which describes the building is “an icon in decline of its heritage value due to the greed inherent in commercialisation”, according to The Weekend Australian.
The newspaper says the residents have lobbied government departments and ministers, police, the City of Sydney council, SOH management and even UNESCO, saying there were “constant breaches in [the Opera House] heritage conservation plan that has put at risk its outstanding universal value, unique heritage significance and therefore its UNESCO World Heritage status”.
The Australia Opera’s recent 60th anniversary season rival of The Eighth Wonder, a “silent” opera (patrons listened to the performance through headphones) about the building of Danish architect Jorn Utzon’s masterpiece, is believed to have sparked the latest series of complaints after the SOH applied to modify the development approvals conditions for temporary events outdoors.
The opera was performed for five nights, outdoors on the forecourt’s Monumental Steps, closing on Sunday night. Opera Australia took over the area for 25 days.
Details about the concerns of residents in Bennelong Apartments, which were completed in 1998, have emerged just weeks before 1990s pop band Crowded House returns for a series of outdoor concerts there, 20 years after playing in front of more than 100,000 people on the forecourt in November 1996.
The changes sought by the Opera House were put on public exhibition in August and the Concerned Citizens Group provided one of three submissions on the issue, alongside two building residents. Bill’s Moss’ wife, Lata, signed the submission on behalf of the group.
She said the group formed last year, concerned about eight key issues, ranging from excessive noise to operations at Opera Bar, “mismanagement of existing development approvals”, traffic and patron congestion, “potential terrorism situations” and “unsightly presentation” of the forecourt during concerts.
The group says in its submission that it has forwarded “extensive correspondence” on those concerns to various government departments.
“The history of outdoor performances has been one of excessive noise and unmanaged crowds exiting the Sydney Opera House premises for up to 1 hour after the close of the event,” the group says in its objection.
It wanted to limit bumping in and out for concert to daylight hours only and objected to any extension of the concert hours because of the noise from people leaving drunk and “affected by drugs, conducting themselves in unsocial (sic) behaviour.”
A spokesperson for the Sydney Opera House told Business Insider the organisation had been liaising with “a small group of neighbouring residents for a number of years” about their concerns and even provided a dedicated after-hours contact person to deal with any issues.
“Of the hundreds of apartments neighbouring the Opera House, this small group comprises about half a dozen apartments. Many other residents understand that the Opera House opened long before the apartments were built and that the Opera House is a public space to be enjoyed by all,” the spokesperson said.
“In the case of outdoor performances, the Opera House Forecourt has been used for public events and concerts for more than 40 years. This includes shows by both Australian and international stars. Around 55% of people who attend our year-round contemporary music program are first time Opera House attendees.”
Compliance and conduct
Claims by Alan Jones that concerts have taken over the forecourt “for 120 days a year” were rejected.
“Over the last three years, infrastructure for significant outdoor events on the Forecourt and Western Broadwalk has been in place for an average of 46 days each year,” the spokesperson said.
Responding to criticism that the infrastructure was “an eyesore”, the SOH said: “Utzon always envisioned the Forecourt as a performance and event space – in the Utzon Design Principles (2003) he described the intended use of the area as ‘a gathering place, a town square and outdoor auditorium’.”
It also rejected criticism of Matt Moran and hotelier Bruce Solomon’s popular harbourside venue, with the spokesperson saying: “the area currently occupied by Opera Bar has been a restaurant and bar for almost 30 years and is subject to a number of regulatory instruments including acts, development approvals, state environmental planning policy, other regulations and Opera Bar’s liquor licence”, adding that “we have a dedicated team to manage crowds leaving the site after all concerts and events”.
A spokesperson to the NSW Department of Planning told Business Insider the department was looking into any claims of compliance breaches and they are subject to ongoing compliance monitoring.
“The concert hours have not been extended and events must be finished at 11pm,” the spokesperson said.
However, concert organisers were given an extra hour to pack up at the end of an event, extending the previous cut off from 11pm to midnight.
Bill Moss subsequently called on NSW heritage minister Mark Speakman to resign in a further conversation with The Australian, saying “there is an inherent conflict between a minister overseeing both environment and heritage while also having some oversight of planning in the state”.
Moss has bought three apartments in the complex for $3.25 million in 2007, $1.95 million in 2010, and $6.5 million in 2014.
Macquarie’s former head of property and banking, who resigned from the bank in 2007, has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, FSHD, and nowadays focuses his time on charitable and philanthropic work.
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