When Gus Petersilka expanded his small Viennese-style cafe onto the footpath of Bunda Street, Civic, in 1969, he was met with fierce resistance by the local authorities.
The tables, chairs and awnings outside ‘Gus’ Place’ were carted away twice by the Department of Interior during early morning raids, but each time, public outcry brought them back. Gus also wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.
A sign in his cafe’s window reportedly read, ‘Do it now. Tomorrow there may be a law against it.’
Times have changed to the point that businesses in the City can now set up outdoor dining facilities with a mere 24 hours’ notice.
Cafes and restaurants apply for a permit through Access Canberra and, provided they meet “certain conditions”, are granted permission by the ACT Government to use public spaces adjacent to their premises for outdoor dining.
Until today (17 November), this process has taken about 10 days, “depending on the complexity of the application”. But in time for summer, the government is now offering fast-tracked “next-day” turnarounds for simple requests.
ACT Minister for Business and Better Regulation Tara Cheyne says this change benefits everyone.
“The new scheme forms part of the government’s broader reform program to improve regulation, making it even easier for businesses to activate public spaces, grow their business, and thrive,” she says.
“Increased outdoor dining opportunities will allow more Canberrans to enjoy the warm weather over summer, increase social connections and enhance the vibrancy of our community.”
The permit won’t last forever and only applies “while applications for ongoing use are being considered”. But it aims to get businesses out there quicker, especially as the Christmas-themed market Festive Finds in the City opens tonight on City Walk.
Guiseppe Mangerucca from Access Canberra’s ‘Event Coordination and Business Assist Team’ estimates more than 600 businesses in the ACT may be eligible.
“What this really does is give an opportunity … to try it out for the period of summer and see if it works for their business,” he says.
From today, Access Canberra will also begin writing to businesses to make the rules around liquor licences clearer. Their website has already been updated with a range of scenarios (for example, a business can hold a private event for 30 people and serve alcohol without a permit).
Outdoor dining permits might be quicker, but applications for liquor licences still take at least four months to process, including 30 days for a public consultation process and up to another 90 for the Commissioner for Fair Trading to consider the feedback and deliver the verdict.
“There are a range of interdependencies, so we need to wait until there’s been a fit-out … and do a final inspection before we can approve a new licence,” Mr Mangerucca says.
Civic is preparing to welcome nearly double the number of visitors as Christmas looms, and everything from the fountain to Garema Place has been spruced up as a ‘Christmas Walk’, thanks to candy-cane light poles, hanging decorations, a fairy-lit pathway, and an enormous 16-metre high Christmas tree donned with giant baubles.
Several local businesses have also been provided with stalls for the Festive Lane Market, which runs from 17 to 19 November. Entry to the merry-go-round is free from 1 to 24 December, and there are “roving performances” every weekend in December.
Ms Cheyne says it’s “about supporting our small and local businesses”.
“In 2022, with Christmas in the City, we saw a 42 per cent increase in people in the city in the evenings thanks to the campaign that we were running, and more than $3 million extra was spent in local businesses.”
The ACT Government has flagged more “night-time economy reforms in the coming months”.
For more information on the next-day outdoor dining permits, contact the Access Canberra Event Coordination and Business Assist Team via email (ACBusinessTeam@act.gov.au), phone (6205 4400) between 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, or the Access Canberra website.