Businesses banking on outdoor dining in Melbourne could soon be forced to start paying fees for the privilege, as the city looks to return to normal operations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
At a City of Melbourne meeting on Tuesday, councillors will consider a tapered reintroduction of outdoor dining and busking fees.
The council has waived more than $2.36m in application and permit fees for alfresco dining and busking since October 2020, to help support city businesses badly affected by the lockdowns.
Acting Lord Mayor Nicholas Reece said the decision allowed restaurants and cafes to bounce back better than ever, with foot traffic steadily increasing and retail spending up 20 per cent on pre-Covid levels at $353m.
“Melbourne is springing back to life; the data tells us now is the right time to return to our regular outdoor dining permitting processes,” he said.
“By gradually reintroducing fees, we can continue to improve our neighbourhoods, build our city-shaping projects and deliver stellar events that make Melbourne the best place to live, work, study and visit.”
If councillors agree, fees for outdoor dining on footpath areas could be reintroduced for 1300 outdoor cafe permit holders from November 1.
To ease the transition for businesses, council would offer a 50 per cent discount on fees for the use of sidewalk seating extensions.
The reintroduction of fees on November 1 would net up to $716,000 for the City of Melbourne, according to the council.
However, some businesses would be exempt from contributing rates.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the council will contemplate offering continued rate relief to buskers and businesses in the Docklands, which are still struggling to regain pre-pandemic revenue.
Permit fees would be waived for 107 outdoor dining premises in the harbour precinct until 30 June, 2023 under the proposal.
Buskers in the CBD would also be granted ongoing reprieve from fees until mid-next year, which council employees believe will “attract even greater vibrancy and vitality on the streets of Melbourne”.
The council estimates it would be forgoing $56,000 in revenue from both sources.
City activation portfolio lead, Councillor Roshena Campbell, said the tailored reintroduction of fees would strike the perfect balance for the city and businesses.
“Since the beginning of the year, we’ve seen … 167 new hospitality venues adding to Melbourne’s world-renowned dining, but we know our city is still recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic,” she said.
Restaurants and cafes with alfresco dining will be able to return outdoor dining infrastructure and footpath space to council if owners don’t want to pay the fees.
Those that choose to retain their permits will be able to apply for flexible payment plans.