By Jack Alfonso
The city’s hospitality venues can now operate outdoors until June 30 after City of Melbourne councillors voted unanimously in favour of extending its outdoor program this month.
The move comes after another lockdown triggered a weekend of huge losses for small hospitality businesses over the Valentine’s Day weekend in February.
Cr Roshena Campbell, who moved the motion, said there was “no doubt” that the hospitality industry was “particularly affected by restrictions”.
“So many of our hospitality businesses are hanging on by a thread,” she said. “Just as we started to see signs of economic recovery with the return of city workers, we were plunged into another lockdown.”
Administrative procedures such as receiving extensions to permits will also be left in the hands of the council in order to reduce the amount of bureaucracy small business owners need to deal with.
Additionally, assessments of parklets in loading zones, those who are yet to utilise their on-street dining area, and the safety or amenity of the parklets will be undertaken to ensure the program does not adversely affect the functionality of the city.
In moving the notion, Cr Campbell noted the “cost of the initiative”, but said the council was in a “position to offer this support” due to “prudent financial management”.
Infrastructure costs to implement the outdoor dining program until the end of March are anticipated to total around $5.5 million, with the extension to June adding an estimated $2.2 million in costs.
The council also estimates that $444,000 will be lost due to a lack of parking revenue, which does not account for additional revenue obtained from parking fines.
The program is being run by the City of Melbourne and funded the Melbourne City Recovery Fund (MCRF), a $100 million initiative launched in partnership with the State Government, which Cr Philip Le Liu called on to cooperate with the council more in the event of future lockdowns.
“We can do all the initiatives and everything, but if the state government goes for a snap lockdown, there’s not a lot we can do,” he said.
“For us, its about holding the state government to account, and for us to ensure that they understand the devastation that is faced by small business within the City of Melbourne.”
The extension follows a survey recently conducted by the council regarding the level of satisfaction among hospitality business owners with the on-street dining program.
The survey pertained to 150 businesses with parklet infrastructure, and found the initiative has assisted 81 per cent of businesses to reopen and 76 per cent of businesses to maintain seating capacity through the density restrictions.
The council also moved to evaluate and discuss any future extensions and considerations to the outdoor dining program on March 30, factoring in overall economic benefits and potential changes.