Inner West Councillors unanimously supported the preparation of a COVID-recovery outdoor dining and live performance policy to “allow and encourage safe use of public spaces by local restaurants, cafes, bars and local premises” at a Council meeting last week.
The motion, tabled from Councillor Darcy Byrne, detailed that the policy would facilitate the safe reopening of local hospitality businesses and will include consideration of parking spaces, main streets and/or adjoining side streets and Council parks in the opening-up phase following lockdown.
Cr Byrne believes that Council involvement will be crucial to the survival of the hospitality and live performance sector post-lockdown.
“There’s no way that businesses are going to be able to recover under the current conditions, that is by making use of the footpath dining that is available, and where we seek to do so, what that inevitably would create is a conflict between disability access and the viability of restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs,” Cr Byrne told the meeting.
“There’s going to need to be new creative solutions if businesses are going to be able to open their doors, begin to recover and welcome the huge number of local residents who will want to get outside and enjoy a meal and drink with their friends and loved ones.”
The proposed policy comes with the City of Sydney considering transforming 10 lanes and backstreets into dining spaces and walkways in a bid to bring business back into the CBD, with NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes “throwing out the planning rule book and taking emergency measures” upon the planned reopening of Sydney.
Cr Byrne’s motion included “provisions already enacted by the City of Sydney in response to the 2020 lockdown for outdoor dining and live performance that can be implemented in the Inner West.” In November last year, the City of Sydney announced an 11-month trial of a new application process for outdoor dining permits and on-street dining opportunities, as well as waiving all fees for new and existing outdoor dining permit holders. Under the trial, originally scheduled to finish at the end of October, inner-city precincts were given larger trading hours and were charged no application or rental fees.
“It would be good if we could learn from all of those and come up with some practical solutions that will not leave the onus entirely on businesses, but will see the council taking the lead in providing new spaces for outdoor dining … and perhaps a live performance as well,” Cr Byrne said.
Taking it outside
Councillor Marghanita da Cruz, who seconded the motion, signalled the use of outdoor spaces as a critical aspect of the Inner West’s COVID-19 recovery.
“The evidence says that even fully vaccinated people can get COVID and the best way to reduce the spread is actually to allow a lot of ventilation, and the best way to have ventilation is to be outside,” Cr da Cruz said.
“I’d like to see many roads closed along the Inner West, and people using it for outdoor dining, music and other activities, a bit of dancing won’t go astray … I think we can really liven our community with a lot of activities and spontaneity and it’ll be a positive way for us to come out of lockdown.”
Councillor Julie Passas was sceptical of the policy’s practicality.
“We are a suburb, not a city,” Cr Passas said. “We can’t be using roads and carparks for music. These type of things, they don’t work.
“If there is any way, if there is some laneway attached to shopping centres where there are no residents then yes, by all means, let’s look at that, but to talk about closing streets and using carparks is just not feasible.”
Cr Passas wished for council officers to look at “something substantial” where no residents will be affected by the policy.
The proposed policy would also include options for reallocating funding for festivals and events that did not proceed due to the COVID-19 lockdown this year. Funds would be redirected to a program allowing hospitality businesses to hire local musicians and performers for outdoor dining entertainment, also including localised options for all Inner West main streets to recognise that alternative approaches will be needed for different areas of the Inner West.
Mayor Rochelle Porteous signalled her interest in the motion.
“It’s a very comprehensive motion, quite a creative approach,” Cr Porteous told the meeting.
“We need to look at all options and do what we can to make it work for the local businesses … so it’d be great to see this report and see how we can try and carry this forward.”
While supporting the motion, Cr Porteous expressed her concern with the use of council parks nearby the main streets accommodating outdoor dining and live entertainment.
“Takeaway and a few bean bags [are] quite different to actually putting in the furniture of a restaurant, and I think there’d be a few more issues around the commercialisation of the parks, but I’m happy to explore it.”
Councillors also discussed consultation with local business representatives while developing the policy, to ensure that any proposal will be effective within the local hospitality and live performance sector.
The motion was unanimously supported by Councillors ahead of a planned reopening of the Inner West and Greater Sydney later this year.