Queues a blurred line

By David Schout

Footpath-blocking queues outside popular CBD restaurants and micro-shops has been described as a “difficult” and “no-win situation” by a City of Melbourne officer.

And without a change to planning laws, it appears the issue will continue. 

At a recent meeting with residents’ group East Enders, the council’s Street Trading Team Leader Hugh Kilgower said blocked walkways was a tough issue to police.

“We’ve actually got a mismatch,” he said. “Council don’t handle it, or provide an ability to have queues, but on the other hand businesses are required to manage their crowds.”

Under the Activities Local Law, footpath queuing is not permitted.

Businesses are required to manage their crowds, but for micro-shops selling directly to foot traffic, blocked footpaths are largely unavoidable. 

Mr Kilgower said a recent CBD case highlighted the issue, where a micro-shopfront selling doughnuts directly to footpath traffic put in place queuing structures to deal with demand.

“Council went down there and got them to remove it. They (the business) turned around and put tape down because, how else are they supposed to manage their queue? They’ve got a queue, they can’t stop people coming to buy their products, and yet they’re getting in trouble for not managing their crowds.”

“It’s a no-win situation. And with planning allowing people to have a smaller footprint and almost selling straight out onto the footpath, it’s making it difficult.”

Crime prevention officer Leading Sen-Constable Glenn MacFarlane, also in attendance at the meeting, said it was almost impossible to enforce a long-term solution.

“We, as the police, technically they’re obstructing the footpath and we can move them on,” he explained. “But the problem is going to persist – police aren’t going to be there every day. So I think it then comes back to the council to ensure they’ve got the staff managing it.”

Another aspect of the issue is the rise in queues at popular cafes and restaurants which, combined with outdoor seating, can completely block footpaths.

East Enders president Jenny Eltham used the example of Liverpool St, where outdoor seating combined with queues frequently meant pedestrians were forced to walk on the road.

This was especially an issue, she said, for those using wheelchairs or prams.

Mr Kilgower conceded this was an area that could be addressed.

“There’s a few different examples around the city where we’ve issued outdoor dining (permits), and the business is attracting crowds. So you’ve actually got the queue, and outdoor dining, and there’s no room for pedestrians. So we need to make a decision in that situation where, if you’ve got queuing, maybe you don’t have outdoor dining.”

Mr Kilgower said the issue was largely a planning matter, and recommended concerned residents write to the planning minister.

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