Outdoor dining extended, City to develop Outdoor Activation Strategy

Greater Bendigo City Council has endorsed a recommendation to support extended outdoor dining, pushing the expiry date from April 30 to December 15, 2022.

The decision aligns with the same expiry date for the Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission’s (formally the Victorian Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation) temporary limited licence, which allows hospitality businesses to serve alcohol in extended outdoor dining areas until December 15 this year. This date also aligns with temporary changes to the State Planning Scheme, which exempts businesses from the need to apply for a planning permit for their extended trading.

As part of its decision making, Council also agreed staff will prepare an Outdoor Activation Strategy and advocate for an extension to use $975,000 in grant funds allocated under the COVIDSafe Outdoor Activation Fund to June 30, 2023 (instead of the current expiry date of July 31, 2022).

If this can be achieved, these funds can be used to continue to waive outdoor dining fees and charges for another financial year, valued at approximately $180,000, as well as implementation of plans to provide infrastructure to support businesses to continue trading outdoors.

If the advocacy is unsuccessful, then the reintroduction of local law permit fees for outdoor dining for the second half of the new financial year will be considered as part of 2022/2023 Budget deliberations.

Development of the Outdoor Activation Strategy will involve trader and community engagement and the City will also review the current fee structure and guidelines for outdoor dining and street trading.

Mayor Cr Andrea Metcalf said expanded outdoor dining had been fast-tracked to support economic recovery from COVID-19 but long-term planning was required for it to continue.

“Council acknowledges expanded outdoor dining has largely been a success. Fifty-one outdoor dining permits were issued by the City, which allowed businesses to trade safely and keep staff employed. The result has also led to greater activation and vibrancy in outdoor public spaces and our community has been very supportive of our hospitality businesses during this time,” Cr Metcalf said. 

“The extension of outdoor dining will allow businesses to continue to benefit from the visitation that will be generated by the Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition, the 150th Bendigo Easter Fair and the broader return of events to our city and region.

“However, the implementation of a fair and sustainable long-term extended outdoor dining outcome needs to be considered. Not all sectors have been able to access outdoor trade and not all hospitality businesses have been able to expand outdoors in the same way; some have been able to take over car parks and, in some cases, road spaces.

“The Outdoor Activation Strategy aims to carefully coordinate the use of public space and ensure the City can fairly support all businesses to occupy these areas, and will also consider the nature of public infrastructure, using space in front of other businesses and the overall appearance of our streets.

“The strategy will also review opportunities for outdoor dining outside of the city centre, and potentially at different times of the year, which means traders will have a choice about when to activate public space so as it best suits their business needs.

“Council acknowledges there will be mixed views around the possible re-introduction of outdoor dining permit fees, if the COVIDSafe Outdoor Activation Fund is not able to be extended. Whenever something is stopped, it can be hard to start again.

“However, our economy continues to open up and we are currently working towards a COVID-normal. Waiving these fees was designed to support hospitality businesses through the critical parts of the pandemic and they have been waived for the past two financial years.

“Developing the strategy will also provide a timely opportunity to review current local law fees and investigate what a contemporary fee structure should look like to ensure a fair approach for businesses across Greater Bendigo.

“Council strongly encourages businesses to be part of this work as we prepare for increased visitation and the economic uplift we have been waiting for.”

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