Outdoor dining parklets (or spacelets) are now so commonplace it’s difficult to remember the time before they existed. We are all enjoying having a coffee outdoors, or a glass of wine on a pleasant Friday night.
But think back to August 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic had led to metropolitan Melbourne being placed under Stage 4 lockdown restrictions and in regional Victoria, Stage 3 restrictions. Hospitality and accommodation, and the arts and recreation industries were amongst the hardest hit industries by the pandemic. Responding to calls to better support hospitality businesses to stay open during the pandemic, the Government launched the Outdoor Eating and Entertainment Package, a $58 million program to help businesses adapt to outdoor dining and re-open in a COVID ‘normal’ manner.
Car parks and adjacent spaces directly outside cafes, bars and restaurants were converted into outdoor dining spaces containing low-level fencing, tables and chairs, umbrellas, and temporary timber flooring. Some councils blocked off small side streets in activity centres and turned the road space into a larger outdoor dining area. Councils branded their outdoor dining areas with attractive banners encouraging residents to ‘shop local’ or ‘rediscover’ their shopping villages.
Six months after they were first built, many councils were wondering – how are our residents and visitors using these outdoor dining spaces? What are the pros and cons from the traders’ point of view? Should they continue to operate even if restrictions are lifted?
Over the past two years Conversation Co has led community engagement on three outdoor dining projects – two in Banyule City Council (2021 and 2022) and one in Bayside City Council.
Residents and visitors in both municipalities recognised the benefits of the outdoor dining parklets:
- Improves the community ‘vibe’ and atmosphere, enlivens the shopping centres
- Attracts more shoppers to the area, good for local businesses
- Provides a COVID-safe outdoor area for patrons to use
- Parklets look attractive, has visual appeal
- Makes shopping centres feel safer (more people out in evenings)
Some traders/trader associations and residents however were concerned about the loss of the carparking spaces located immediately outside the food businesses. A segment of their customers had said they valued being able to park directly outside – particularly if the weather was wet – or because they wanted the convenience. Other negative views expressed by traders and shoppers was that the parklets weren’t used enough (“a waste of money”), they were unsafe being located right next to the road, they were blocking up the footpaths or they gave food businesses an unfair advantage over other businesses.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its third year, Melburnians are still enjoying the benefits of outdoor dining. Councils have had to make longer-term decisions about their parklets to provide certainty for affected traders and shoppers.
In February 2022 Bayside City Council decided to continue the outdoor dining parklet program, supported by a new policy and guidelines for traders. The Parklet Policy and Design Guidelines were subsequently endorsed by Council in May 2022 and cover parklet eligibility, the required application process and maintenance responsibilities.
The Bayside businesses that currently have an outdoor dining parklet will be applying for a parklet permit under the new policy. There is also interest from other businesses to join the program. The marquees constructed by Council – in Beaumaris Concourse and Seaview Village – have been well supported by the community and will be in place until June 2025.
In June 2022 Banyule City Council decided to continue the outdoor dining parklet program, and to extend outdoor dining permits and waive permit fees for the 2022/23 financial year. Council also committed to develop a Banyule Parklet Policy and Design Guidelines to support and advise businesses.
- PARLIAMENT OF VICTORIA Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, Inquiry into the Victorian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, February 2021, https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/paec