Following 18 months of regular and protracted Level 4 lockdowns in Auckland our business communities and town centres are suffering. With the Delta variant of COVID proving itself to be highly contagious it’s becoming increasingly clear we won’t be returning to ‘normal’ any time soon. Impacts on businesses are severe and we were already seeing this play out with frequent shop closures in our town centres. The Takapuna Beach Business Association have been lobbying government to provide additional and longer-lasting financial aid to businesses because Levels 3 & 2 still prevent them from operating in a financially sustainable way, never mind recover the losses they’ve already endured.
At level 4 trade in Takapuna is 96% down, at level 3 it’s 85% down, and level 2 it’s still 50% down. Office workers not returning to their place of work also has a massive impact on the viability of town centres; day-time dining and shopping drops exponentially.
We’ve learned that transmission of DELTA is less likely outdoors and in response the govt has stated that in Level 2 (when us Aucklanders finally get there!) hospitality can only serve a maximum of 50 patrons in a restaurant but is enabled to serve up to 100 outside. Our silver lining is that we're moving into summer and as it happens, dining outdoors is something we all love. The question is, how do we enable those cafes and restaurants to carve out greater space? What ways can we support them to take it outside?
Auckland Council has a role to play here, and already some changes have been made whilst others are still being discussed:
Given NZ's COVID experience is delayed when compared to other countries, we gratefully don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are already good examples in other places on how we can support businesses to recover, and still manage our public health needs.
Examples include the ‘Extended Outdoor Dining (EOD) programme in Melbourne. “The goal of the EOD program has been to expand the tradable area for hospitality businesses and to revitalise the inner city. We found that the program was successful in helping to cope with indoor dining restrictions by creating an additional 18,000 outdoor seats for cafes, restaurants and bars. The economic assessment indicated a range of positive results for the broader economy and individual businesses… Businesses and general community were overwhelmingly positive about the program with 96% of people stating that they felt that the EOD program was a good addition to the city.”
Following the changes 800 people were surveyed and an additional 300 intercept surveys took place. An economic analysis was also completed. It was found that 92% of respondents strongly supported continued outdoor dining, including Council creating more outdoor dining spaces by reimagining on-street parking bays. 88% of respondents believed extended outdoor dining does, or may, make it more likely people will eat or drink in the area. 92% of businesses in the outdoor dining program felt it created a positive atmosphere, as did 75% of businesses not in the program. 78% of businesses in the outdoor dining program stated it increased their revenue. See more here, and here.
In Hoboken New Jersey the local council created a FastTrack process that offers immediate pandemic assistance to small businesses who would benefit from increased outdoor space in order to recover. They call them strEATeries and parklets. Here they maximise outdoor capacity and fees are waived. There’s an expediated approval process as well as an ability to extend outdoor liquor licensing in a faster manner. See more here.
There’s also a healthy business street guide made by the Washington State Department of Health that states: “Community and business activities, including restaurant dining, are safer outdoors during this COVID-19 pandemic.” The street guide offers configurations of streets that allow businesses to move their trade to the outdoors to minimize risk. It discusses sidewalk extensions, slow streets, curbside dining, plaza and market designs and other alternative designs.
These examples are only a few of the many that are available to us. Our job now, is to show leadership and advocate for swift change to support our businesses to open their doors and keep them open throughout the next challenging year ahead, and if you look at the transformation of New York in the video below, you might discover this is the catalyst we need to make our cities healthier and more liveable.
Elected member of the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board for the 2019-2022 Election Term.