Local Councils Need to Step Up and Support Local Businesses

Auckland City Council has (finally) acknowledged the challenges facing Auckland’s hospitality sector in 2020 and have announced some measures to support them while the region remains in a restricted environment. The measures announced by the Council include relaxing the requirements for use of outdoor space as well as some support for licence extensions.

While these measures are welcomed by the local hospitality community, why has it taken the Auckland Council so long to present them? Why were these measures not on the table during the last round of Alert Level restrictions?

Back in May the Mayor of Liverpool, England announced the development of a programme to help restaurants provide outdoor eating and drinking as part of the Liverpool Without Walls project to re-imagine the city under social distancing rules.

The project, which was coordinated by Liverpool City Council, Liverpool BID Company, and Liverpool Chamber of Commerce included road closures, pop-up parks, a business grant scheme, and free trading permits for businesses.

The scheme included closing popular restaurant destination Bold Street to traffic across the summer and the introduction of street furniture and parklets, which will turn existing parking bays into dining areas. In addition, all independent restaurants in the city were able to apply for a grant to help them purchase furniture to allow them to trade outside.

Where is this sort of initiative from our local governments and councils? Granted, it has been summer in the northern hemisphere at the height of COVID restrictions so outdoor dining was a no brainer. However, I’m sure plenty of New Zealand restaurant, bar, and café owners would have raised their hands for a scheme to help with outdoor dining, regardless of it being winter. Outdoor heating and covers could have been bought, or spaces looked at to convert into outdoor eating areas.

Look at us now, we’re heading into spring and the coronavirus is still around, restrictions still in place – we desperately need to look ahead to summer, traditionally the busiest time for the hospitality and tourism industries, to make sure we have measures in place to help these sectors mend and grow.

The Auckland Council have announced that they will fast-track new food-only outdoor dining license applications during Alert Level 2 and issue them within 24 hours of receipt. Applications can be made online here.

The council has advised they are unable to fast-track new on-premise alcohol licenses or extend existing on-premise licenses because of the input required from Police, Ministry of Health and District Licencing Boards. However, they will take a relaxed approach to bars, cafes and restaurants using more space than normal to allow for increased distancing between tables during Alert Level 2.

This is all welcomed news, but it feels a tad too little too late.

There is a petition currently sitting with the New Zealand government calling to adopt the UK’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme. Perhaps local government should also look overseas for ideas on how it can step up and support local businesses in a real and lasting way.