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In 2015, none other than the Economist named Melbourne as the World’s Most Liveable City. The accolade owes much to the practical planning work of the City of Melbourne, including their concerted efforts to invigorate the city’s nightlife. If you would like to add to the city’s charm by setting up a small bar in Melbourne, this article outlines the steps you need to follow.

Step 1: Clarify your Ambitions

If you can articulate how you want your bar to look, feel and operate, you will smooth the journey to being a proprietor. Being clear at the outset will help you to know exactly what you must do and the applications you have to lodge to make your bar a reality.

Step 2: Find your Premises

As this is your dream, you will need to pound the pavements until you locate your dream spot. Luckily for you, the City of Melbourne has prepared a helpful summary of the distinct precincts of the City of Melbourne. It is provided for business owners to understand the kind of opportunities each precinct offers. 

Once you have done this, make contact with the relevant property agent. Irrespective of whether you intend to lease or buy the property, do not sign any contracts at this stage. You have not yet applied for, or been granted, a development permit or obtained a liquor licence.  In short, it is too early. However, you would be wise to have a qualified legal professional read your contract and explain it to you in detail. Remember that knowledge is power.

However, take a thorough inventory of the premises. Determine what, if any, building works are needed to make become what you need. Intended works materially affect the applications you later make.

Step 3: Lodge the Relevant Applications

Whether you like it not, setting up a business requires paperwork. The paperwork that you need to set up a bar in Melbourne will depend on what you would like to do. However, in general, you will need to focus on:

  • Planning Permits;
  • Liquor Licence; and
  • Other Administrative Notices.

Planning Permits

The Melbourne Planning Scheme (the Scheme) determines the land use and development of the City of Melbourne.  The Scheme dictates if you need a permit, which permits you require and assessment criteria. The simplest way to get a copy of it is online.

Be aware that the City of Melbourne has different planning rules for the central city, central business district and central activities district of Melbourne. These are called the Capital City Zone. The Scheme details which areas are in the zone.

Be aware that a Bar in the zone still needs a planning permit because it qualifies as a Section 2 use of the area. That means that it impacts the surrounding area and requires assessment.

If you do not need to do building works to set up your bar in Melbourne, you need only apply for a planning permit. However, if you intend to carry out building works, you will require a Building Permit and a Certificate of Compliance when works are complete. Minor structural alterations require a Certificate of Final Inspection. The planning permit you receive will specify which you need.  Applying for a Building Permit means that you will need to draw up plans that comply with the City of Melbourne’s Energy, water and Waste Efficiency Policy. You will also need a Waste Management Plan. Further information on both is on the City of Melbourne’s website.

You can do the paperwork yourself or get the assistance of a Planning Lawyer. It depends on your budget and the complexity of the task itself.  If you can afford it, professional help may expedite the process for you.

Liquor Licence

In Victoria, the type of Liquor Licence granted to a business depends on the kind of business, its locations and its hours.

Typically, a small bar needs an On-Premises Licence.

This licence permits trading:

  • 7 am – 11 pm Monday to Saturday;
  • 10 am – 11 pm Sunday; and
  • 12 noon -11 pm ANZAC Day and Good Friday

You can apply for additional trading hours. Trading past 1 am requires a Late Night (On Premises) Licence.  However, be aware that the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation is abiding by a local government freeze on trading past 1 am in Melbourne and other municipal areas save for exceptional circumstances.  

There is an application fee, and all applicants are required to observe Mandatory Water Requirements.

Further information and an application kit are on the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation’s website.

Other Administrative Notices

Depending on your business plan, you may need to apply for other administrative notices. For example, if you intend to serve food you will likely need to register as a Fixed Food Premises. Check with the City of Melbourne.

If you would like a general guide to the permits and licences you may need, you can also visit the Australian Business Licence and Information Service online.

Assuming no difficulties, you are ready to set up a small bar in Melbourne.Contact LegalVision’s Melbourne business lawyers to assist you with setting up your small bar. Questions? Call us on 1300 544 755.


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