Jeff Smith at the tables outside his I Scream cafe.
Jeff Smith at the tables outside his I Scream cafe. Adam Hourigan

Street seat fight

CAFE owners in Grafton say they are fed up with council charges forcing them to pay to place tables and chairs on the pavement outside their businesses.

Opinion is divided among council candidates, with some indicating they would waive the charges and others indicating they would like to maintain them.

Prince St cafe owner Jeff Smith said he had to pay almost $1000 to place two tables and eight chairs in front of his cafe.

He also has another bill for $316 waiting to be paid.

He is charged more than $300 a year to have tables and chairs in front of his main street cafe, I Scream.

Despite paying these rates to the Clarence Valley Council, Mr Smith still has to insure the tables himself and take out a public liability policy.

For Luke Jarrett, owner of Cafe 117 on Pound St, it's a similar story.

Mr Jarrett said he has to pay $766.50 each year to place 13 seats in front of his cafe and also pays for private insurance.

Both small business owners questioned the legitimacy of these charges, asking what burden placing tables on the pavement puts on council.

"You have to self-insure and that makes me wonder what I am paying council for," Mr Smith said.

"The first day we put the tables and chairs out a council officer arrived as they had received a complaint.

"We had only had the chairs out for a few hours and already I was having to show council all the paperwork for the application."

For Mr Smith, the actual application to get permission to place the tables outside was long, tedious and took more than two months.

"If you are so pro-business, give the first year of having al fresco dining for free," said Mr Smith, who has been following the council election.

"Put your money where your mouth is," was his message to both the current councillors and the hopeful candidates.

Candidates responses (unedited)

Karen Toms:

Whether they pay or not is not the question for me. I am very supportive of a review of the Outdoor Dinning Policy.

 Perhaps the cost of administering it does out weigh the revenue. That's an unknown to me at this point.

However we need to remember the primary purpose of footpaths is for getting from A to B in a safe manner not for businesses to spread out into public areas for personal gain.

Lets remember that.  This is about more bums on seats more money in the till. I totally  get that. I'm all for maximizing business opportunities. I love the inviting  look you get from tables chairs and umbrellas.

BUT and it's a very big but, we have a responsibility as a society to take into account the rights and needs of others.

We don't live in a perfect world, if we did everyone would be perfect,  but we are not. Some of us  have mobility problems some have vision impairment.

What right do we have as a business to not consider the needs of others on public land?  You have every right in your own shop if that's what you want,  it is your choice. You may  have a lease or perhaps own it freehold,  you are in control and should be.

However the footpaths are public space that belong to the people, everyone, able bodied or not.

I too love alfresco dinning and understand the angst coming from those businesses who are affected with the new policy but we need to compromise and at this stage that's what the policy does. It may not be just right yet, it may be far from it.

I think there should be further consultation and a review but I don't support change for selfish reasons.

Andrew Baker said:

"The creeping sterilisation of our shopping streets by bureaucracy is just another sad example of the anti-business attitude Clarence Valley Council has adopted in the last few years. Making cafes and shops pay for trying to create interest, warmth, vitality and a welcome feel to our shopping streets is counter-productive to the picture of relaxed country atmosphere our shopping areas need right now. We should be encouraging businesses to display their goods and to provide seating and service that will keep people a little longer. Worse, I suspect the costs of administration, implementation and compliance are greater than the income received. Council would be better in my view to have policies designed to give incentive to businesses to invest and employ rather than to depress and destroy. Importantly, Council must adopt and demonstrate an encouraging attitude to the small businesses we already have here employing local people right now."

Craig Howe said:

"I would be happy to review the amount paid. However the tables are being placed on public, ratepayer owned space. The ratepayers deserve a return on space being used by private business to make a profit."

Greg Clancy said:

"If there is no cost to council in allowing tables on the footpath then I don't think that there should be a charge.  I would look into the issue with a positive approach if elected."

Sue Hughes said:

"I would like to see the al fresco dining charge waived across the Valley. I believe that this charge is too onerous for our café's and restaurants to pay,  they are already working in a competitive market.  Times are tough and this is one strategy that would be a welcome relief from our existing businesses. It could be the difference between a new business wanting to start in the Clarence Valley as opposed to another region.

"I would also like to see the sandwhich board charge dropped and a review be undertaken if they are really necessary."

Jane Beeby said, "I would support al fresco dining fees to be abolished, I would also support restaurant owners in being able to rent a carpark/blister outside their premises if if they wanted to extend their outdoor dining. Alfresco is popular and done all over the world, if the Clarence Valley wants to be on the map for tourism this is a must have.  Council should fully support outdoor ventures so that everyone is able to enjoy the outdoor smoke free ambience.  Health & Safety regulations do need to be maintianed and considered to ensure that the disabled and elderly are not put at risk."

Jeremy Challacombe said:

"I certainly support al fresco dining throughout the Clarence Valley and I am aware of frustrations faced by restaurateurs.

"I do not think there has been enough communication with either the community (users) or café owners. Rather, it appears to be a bureaucratic one-way approach.

"Many other towns throughout both rural and urban Australia do not appear to have the same restrictions and we can visit and learn from other areas.

"I do not see the problem being specifically related to the question of private insurance. I believe that the café owners have a responsibility in this regard. There needs, however, to be consistency as to what is allowed, and, like many other developments, there needs to be a positive and constructive approach by councilors and council staff. If elected, I would be suggesting a review of the outdoor dining policy in its entirety."

Margot Scott said:

"Al fresco dining is such a delightful experience here in God's country, particularly during the summer months.  Small businesses do it tough in the non-tourist times, so I think we should be doing all we can to support them.  Granted, they will still need to take out public liability insurance to cover any incidents that may occur, whether inside or outside on the footpath, but I think most businesses would be happy to pay it - provided they didn't have to pay the additional annual fee for the privilege of having tables "al fresco".  I think we need to revisit (read abolish!) the fee per square metre for outside tables, and rethink the "rules" for cafes and restaurants who wish to utilise the footpaths."

Ursula Tunks said:

"I've no issue with the Council applying 'Al Fresco Dining Charges' for people utilising the public space for dining. However, without access to the research in relation to how the current figures for the per square metre charge was decided, I can't comment on the actual validity of the amount of the charge. As a councillor I would review this material to assure myself that it was both equitable in a 'commercial' sense and appropriate to the current economic environment in the Clarence Valley."

Michael McIvor said:

"As a small business owner, I feel the frustration that businesses have with issues like outside dining.

"These businesses in many cases need & rely on this to survive & excess charges do hurt the business.

"If elected I would look to abolish council fees for this as I do not think it is necessary & council needs to do what it can to help small business survive.

"If there are legal/safety issues involved then that must be considered, but we need to achieve a workable solution if there are legal/safety issues.

"Places like Yamba & Maclean have a great atmosphere/feel because of tables allowed outside & this adds to the charm, encourages locals & tourists to spend more & for council to charge these businesses for bringing some culture to the Valley is sad."

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