The godfather of Whangarei alfresco dining, Graeme Cundy of Dickens Inn, led the charge at a meeting of hospitality industry and council representatives to discuss the new Whangarei District Council (WDC) draft Alfresco Dining Policy this week. He said not everything had raised hackles, but what they were mad about, they were really mad about.
His point-by-point dissection of the proposals that have stirred up the industry showed that the devil was in the detail and that industry and the council had a lot of talking to do.
Mr Cundy reminded the council that it had welcomed the concept of alfresco dining as a way of developing the street appeal of the CBD, and that he and the council had developed a test plan for the first alfresco area.
An alfresco policy had been developed based on the Dickens Inn test case and he was granted the first Alfresco Trading Licence on August 1, 2000. Others had soon followed.
Location of tables and chairs was clearly defined, and there had to be a 1.2-metre clear unobstructed footpath under the verandah. About 10 years ago barriers had been introduced by some owners, which provided protection for both patrons and passers-by and, most importantly, allowed licensees to better manage their obligations under their liquor licences because the barriers clearly defined the licensed area.
"To our knowledge the arrangement has worked well for 13 years, so why change now?" he asked.
The industry's biggest objection was the proposed 3m footpath width for alfresco dining.
There would be a 0.6m setback from the kerb to allow for the overhang of angle-parked vehicles. The walkway would be 2m wide, with a minimum 1m width for the dining zone.
"This adds up to 3.6m. That is wider than the footpath," said Mr Cundy. "This scenario kills most alfresco [dining] in the CBD. Rynos and Dickens Inn will be left with one table each."
He also took issue with provisions on signage height ("there are already bylaws covering signage, why single us out?"); barrier screens of a single colour ("unacceptable, means we can't use screens accepted and supplied internationally by the major beverage suppliers, replacement too costly anyway"); glass screens no higher than 1.2m ("many planter boxes made for alfresco areas incorporate a glass screen as a wind break, which is much higher than 1.2m. These should be allowed, along with drop blinds in appropriate areas"); umbrellas ("the suggested 2.2m height not practical, most commercial umbrellas are about 2m at the lowest point"); no outdoor speakers ("we have to put up with buskers, many of them are terrible and discourage customers ... we should be allowed to play appropriate background music to address this problem").
He said overall the document was "unreasonably restrictive and, in places, contradictory". It offered little in control and management over the existing policy. The proposals would "kill alfresco in the detail".
"It will mean loss of employment and a loss of activity and sense of place in the CBD. It will affect not only the hospitality businesses but other retailers as well, because the town will be less vibrant," Mr Cundy said.
Other business owners threw in a raft of comments, including: How would outdoor non-smoking areas be managed? Higher screens than specified in the draft were needed because eateries were in a wind-tunnel. Why not have different rules for different times of day? Why enforce rules at 1am that were appropriate for 1pm? Take a look at Port Douglas, a brilliantly colourful place with a pretty organic approach to outdoor dining.
People would spill out on to footpaths regardless of rules.
Council group manager district lifestyle Paul Dell said it believed the policy draft offered that leeway but said too much leeway and "you could have mayhem". It was about balance.
The council needed to produce a new policy to meet the changing requirements of legislation on drinking, smoking and safety, but above all wanted to grow alfresco dining as a safe, attractive and lively feature of city life.
"We are saying we have thrown a draft policy out for discussion to get feedback from the industry so the policy can be changed and modified. Let's have that open conversation," Mr Dell said.
Lively debate on footpath tables
Never mind the Hundertwasser Art Centre proposal, the liveliest city issue at the moment is the management of alfresco or outdoor dining.
There is no argument over whether or not to have the alfresco option.
Everyone enjoys the vitality it brings to the city and wants to see more of it. This includes the bar and restaurant owners who seek more trade and the Whangarei District Council which wants a more prosperous CBD.
The big question is: How should the situation be regulated to make sure that pedestrians can move safely along the footpaths and the city doesn't end up looking like a dog's breakfast with a motley variety of signs, screens and street furniture?
Footpath traffic now includes increasing numbers of mobility scooters. There is also the issue of council liability if anyone is injured.
The debate was ignited recently when the Whangarei District Council circulated a draft Alfresco Dining Policy.
The policy was developed after extensive research on current practice in other main centres.