QLDC locks in 'prescriptive' rules for footpath dining

by Kim Bowden - May 03, 2024

A new set of rules that control what outdoor furniture businesses can - or can't - put outside their premises will limit footpath dining for some, but not all decision makers agree with the changes.

Councillors Lisa Guy, Melissa White, and Niki Gladding voted against a motion to approve the Queenstown Lakes District Council's Outdoor Dining on Public Space Policy at a meeting held yesterday in Wānaka.

Councillor Guy argued the policy shift takes the district from a less regulated environment to a more tightly controlled one, and that did not sit well with her.

Council staff say the refreshed policy will provide certainty for both businesses and the wider public on how footpaths can be used for dining.

"Why do we feel the need to be so prescriptive in these measures?," she asked.

"I've got some concerns that we're going to have to enforce things that will take away from the fantastic amenity that is already offered by some operators."

She referenced the vibrancy outdoor dining brought to streets in international cities like Paris, where footpath room could be tight, and said her preference was to allow for similar set-ups locally.

Councillor Guy also raised concerns about a new rule prohibiting branding or advertising on umbrellas, saying many cafes and restaurants collaborated with suppliers to enable freebies - a coffee brand on an umbrella and a coffee machine thrown in too, was one example she listed.

If the new policy is enforced to the letter such commercial arrangements would be a thing of the past across the district.

A council staff member who has worked on the policy review responded to Councillor Guy by describing "an arms race" styled takeover of some public spaces by businesses attempting to make their premises stand out from the rest.

"(One business) puts up an umbrella, or puts up a heater that has that sort of fancy flame going up it, (and) the business next door needs to compete or supersede that.

"It becomes very awkward for us to manage."

It is the staff member's view the new policy is "workable" and necessary.

"We have to have a line and make it fair for all."

The new Outdoor Dining on Public Space Policy replaces the Tables and Chairs in Public Space Policy 2020 and is now in effect.

It includes design specifications for tables and chairs, umbrellas, and gas heaters.

In a report to council ahead of yesterday's meeting staff say the administration of outdoor dining areas across the district has recently come in-house after formerly being dealt with by a private contractor.

"This has resulted in a greater understanding and awareness of the management and administration of outdoor dining areas...as well as an appreciation that improvements can be made." 

As part of the policy shift, existing one-year licences will be replaced by licences with a term of up to three years.

The report says this "will be simpler to manage for both licence holders and council".

The report also notes a stipulation that a minimum pedestrian width of three metres be maintained beyond any outdoor furniture is not new and was a direction from the council's last review of the bylaw in 2020.

This point was also stressed by council chief executive Mike Theelen in yesterday's meeting.

He said although enforcement of this rule had been relaxed during the Covid-19 restrictions when businesses were struggling, the council moving forward would be looking to create "greater certainty and clarity" for both the operators and the wider community.

However staff are acknowledging this will mean some businesses that currently have licences will be unsuccessful in obtaining a new one.

Councillor White asked for an indication of how many would potentially be impacted, but staff were unable to provide a figure.

With the lack of information Councillor White voted against approving the new policy.

Further details on the policy review process can be found online here, while the report and policy presented at yesterday's council meeting can be found online here.

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