The ACT Government’s new Outdoor Activation project has come under fire in Manuka, with opponents claiming the road closures are impacting business and bits of fake grass are doing little to attract new diners to the area.
As part of the plan, one side of Franklin Street has been completely closed to traffic, with tables and chairs set up on the road.
“It looks terrible,” said Manuka Newsagency owner Matt Nobbs. “I’ve got pictures morning, lunch and night of the last three days, and nothing has changed.
“At 2 o’clock … the handful of people who were out there on the road, they moved back to normal places of seating because it was too hot.
“It’s an inconvenience to all our customers and there was no correspondence with the locals. There’s been no promotion. They’ve simply rolled out fake grass and stuck chairs and tables on it.”
A two-week pilot to test outdoor dining in Manuka started on 29 October to help the hospitality industry and improve the area’s nightlife.
One side of Franklin Street has been completely closed as part of the ACT Government’s new Outdoor Activation Taskforce. It was introduced by Minister for Business and Better Regulation Tara Cheyne as “a staged, thoughtful process” which would “welcome business’s ideas”.
However, Mr Nobbs believes many of the impacted businesses were never consulted and suggested that even some of the businesses who would stand to benefit from the street dining option were opposed to the street’s closure.
Opponents say they have been left frustrated but somewhat vindicated after the “street dining” appeared to underperform over the weekend, with customers instead opting to use regular dining options.
After observing patronage over the weekend, Mr Nobbs believes the common-sense approach would be to give up on street dining in Franklin Street.
However, the manager of the Caph’s Restaurant & Bar in Franklin Street, Elijah Notaras, welcomed the initiative.
“People love it,” he said. “It’s opened up the street a little bit more and added something new to Manuka which it has been missing for a while.”
Mr Notaras believes that wind in the late evening was the most significant issue last weekend, and the photos taken by Mr Nobbs at 7 pm reflected customers responding to that despite enjoying the outdoor dining option.
An ACT Government spokesperson said they remained committed to supporting innovative ideas that would aid the economic recovery for local businesses, but they would assess the results in Manuka after two weeks of the pilot.
“The pilot aims to provide more opportunities for businesses to operate in a COVID-safe way and extended outdoor dining for Canberra’s bars, cafes, and restaurants,” the spokesperson said.
“All hospitality businesses on the street are participating.
“The ACT Government will monitor the pilot … to understand how similar outdoor activations could be rolled out across the ACT to help make the city more vibrant.”
Mr Nobbs said he and other local business owners were collaborating on a proposal that would make use of the footpaths and still add a significant amount of space for outdoor dining but would not require one side of the street to be closed.