Melbourne’s outdoor dining areas saved hospitality in 2020. Will the initiative survive?

 In Home News Section, Uncategorized

Andrew Watson set up outdoor dining in the parking spaces outside his Sandringham pub about a year ago — and he’s still shocked at how popular it’s been.

“I was amazed at the resilience of some of the patrons that will sit out there despite it being cold or windy,” he said.

“People clearly wanted it.”

And despite initial approval, Mr Watson says he’s had to fight Bayside City Council to keep his three parking spaces.

Meanwhile across the state, many other councils are remaining tight-lipped on the future of the initiative or plans to enforce permits.

The debate about the future of the initiative comes almost a year after the Victorian government dedicated $290 million for a New York-inspired outdoor dining culture to help hospitality businesses continue trading safely through the coronavirus pandemic.

At the time the initiative was celebrated as something to be enjoyed for “many summers to come”.

Campaign to save ‘spacelets’

Bayside City Council had planned to remove all outdoor dining areas occupying car parks — also known as “parklets” or “spacelets” — by August 31, which prompted Mr Watson to start a campaign to save them.

Mr Watson, who owns The Hobson Stores, said the prospect of strict indoor density limits due to COVID, the “miniscule” impact on parking, and the overwhelming support from traders and patrons were compelling reasons to continue the program.

“Since we’ve started our campaign, there’s been a reaction that overall Bayside residents want and feel more comfortable with outside dining,” Mr Watson told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“It’s a valuable asset and we haven’t had a return on the use in the last 12 months.”

Since he started the campaign, Bayside City Council has decided not to remove outdoor dining areas and plans to undergo a formal community consultation pending approval at a mid-September meeting.

However, the council’s city planning and amenity director Matthew Cripps said traders’ views on outdoor dining were “varied”, with some supporting it and others wanting their car parking back.

“[But] it is anticipated that, if supported by council, the current program will continue while formal community consultation on the outdoor dining structures occurs on a permanent approach to this program,” Mr Cripps said.

Too high a price

While Bayside City Council has grappled with the future of the initiative, City of Yarra Mayor Gabrielle De Vietri said her council had plans to make it permanent — but at a cost.

She said the City of Yarra would begin charging businesses to use parking spots for outdoor dining after December 31 this year, waiving all outdoor dining and trading fees in the meantime.

Cr De Vietri said from 2022, businesses would have to pay between $8.40 and $15.92 per parking bay per day depending on location.

Assuming most vendors occupied two spaces, the cost would be between $511 to $968 a month — which Cr De Vietri said 60 per cent of businesses supported.

“The community, traders and council want to see it become a permanent part of life in Yarra – but it has cost council,” she said.

“When fees start up again, traders will pay the bare minimum because we want them to stay afloat.

“But in the long-term, council shouldn’t be locked into propping up a handful of commercial businesses when business is good.”

Cr De Vietri said money from the permit would cover the hire of safety bollards, paying for compliance officers to assess the structures, and lost parking revenue.

She said the program had cost council $1 million since October 2020 and was expected to cost another $400,000 for the remaining months of 2021.

Beermash owner Dayvid Clark, who has decorated his outdoor dining area with a huge herb garden and lighting, said the City of Yarra permit was well worth the cost for his Collingwood bar.

“We were one of the businesses that put our hand up straight away and said ‘yes, we fully agree with this’,” Mr Clark said.

“There were businesses that turned around and said they didn’t want to pay and the temporary spaces have now gone.”

The City of Melbourne also plans to introduce outdoor dining permits from November. It plans to cover 75 per cent of extended outdoor permit fees, and gradually shift the costs to vendors over two years.

Call for reduced fees

Australian Hotels Association executive member Ray Sharawara, who also owns Hotel Shamrock in Bendigo, said the fees proposed by the City of Yarra appeared to be too expensive.

He said councils should “give some ground”.

“Going forward into COVID-normal, outdoor dining should be made permanent but there would have to be a fee,” he said.

“[However] those prices are not encouraging it to be long-term.”

In the meantime, Mr Sharawara applauded the decision of some councils to extend free outdoor dining in the short term, including the City of Greater Bendigo and the Mornington Peninsula Shire.

“The good news is, contrary to what other people are getting, [Bendigo council are] extending their outdoor permits to the end of April 2022,” Mr Sharawara said.

“I think other councillors can take the lead.”

A Victorian government spokesperson also said they “encourage councils to continue their support for this mindshift”.

(Original ABC Article)