By Sean Car
The City of Melbourne’s long crusade against banning smoking in outdoor dining areas has finally received support at State Government level after it announced plans to introduce bans from 2017.
While the proposed ban wouldn’t come into effect until August 1, 2017, it will cover all outdoor dining areas at restaurants, cafes, take-away shops and licensed premises.
It comes after City of Melbourne councillors put Hardware Lane and Degraves Street on their radar at the Future Melbourne Committee meeting on August 11, having voted in favour of adding QV Melbourne, Goldsborough Lane and City Square to the CBD’s growing list of smoke-free areas.
Despite facing opposition from some local businesses, councillors ruled eight to three in favour of implementing the recommendations of their officers.
While QV Melbourne and Goldsborough Lane will now be declared smoke-free zones permanently, City Square will only be prescribed smoke-free between the hours of 6am and 8pm each day for a 12-month trial.
As part of council’s commitment to implement up to six smoke-free areas as a year-two action in the Council Plan 2014-17, the three venues join other CBD smoke-free zones at Howey Place, Equitable Place, Block Place and The Causeway.
Following a two-month consultation process with local businesses and stakeholders, council management stated in its report that 85 per cent or more of those surveyed in all three areas had been either supportive or neutral towards a smoking ban.
However, council had received 44 submissions specifically opposing the proposed ban at City Square, with many stating that bans were unfairly targeting smokers and local businesses.
Councillor Stephen Mayne labeled the ban’s transition to an 8pm finish as an “elegant solution” and said it was important to continue the push to eliminate smoking next in Hardware Lane and Degraves St.
“I’m not comfortable with slowing down at the first sign of a stakeholder expressing concern I think that there needs to be a momentum with this issue,” he said.
“I think it gets harder to go down Hardware Lane and Degraves St if we fall at this hurdle.”
“I want to go down Hardware and Degraves and I’m looking forward to the momentum of doing that but I think if we wobble this quickly and this easily then it’s a bad sign,” Cr Mayne said.
In opposing the ban, Cr Ken Ong questioned whether implementing a fixed hours ban at City Square was a viable initiative.
“We’re putting in a half solution here,” he said. “You either do a full ban or you don’t.”
“Who’s going to monitor it? Do we send officers down there at six in the morning to kick everyone out and then leave at 8pm because it’s free for all? It’s too complicated.”
Cr Kevin Louey also opposed the proposal, stating that smoking areas on balconies located just a few metres above City Square would cause confusion and that businesses would be affected by the future construction works on the Melbourne Metro Rail project.
“There is inequality in the fact that we can’t regulate the western balcony, which is two metres above some of the venues that we’re going to regulate,” he said.
“My preference is to give businesses an opportunity to be competitive. We should look at it after the whole Metro development has finished.”
Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said he rejected the argument that the initiative would have an adverse effect on business.
“I was a part of the debate way back when we were debating in parliament whether we would ban smoking indoors at hotels, bars and restaurants,” he said.
“A number of these issues were raised then that it would destroy business, that it would be counterproductive to people making a profit and exactly the opposite has happened.”