Desolate Manuka street raises questions about Canberra’s ‘outdoor activation’ trial

Max O'Driscoll 2 November 2021 42
Franklin Street, Manuka

Franklin Street, Manuka, this afternoon. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

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.”


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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.


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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.

Outdoor space at Manuka

Outdoor space at Manuka: the wind had an impact on outdoor dining. Photo: Matt Nobbs.

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.


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42 Responses to Desolate Manuka street raises questions about Canberra’s ‘outdoor activation’ trial
Richard Barker Richard Barker 1:45 pm 04 Nov 21

Step 1, close road. Step 2, assess trial as failure. Step 3 build flats

    Matthew James Matthew James 1:46 pm 04 Nov 21

    Richard Barker aah, that makes more sense

    Richard Barker Richard Barker 1:48 pm 04 Nov 21

    Matthew James the Inner South developers' playbook is your friend here

Mark Francis Mark Francis 11:46 am 04 Nov 21

An interesting thing is how this concept might be integrated with the new hotel under construction across the road. With some foresight, a well thought out entrance-exit linkage point to a pedestrianized Franklin Street could be a real winner. Consultation and goodwill might make it happen, and the “dead” side of Franklin Street could finally be revitalized.

Anne Lafferty Anne Lafferty 10:52 am 04 Nov 21

Fantastic Manuka come to life, at last

Gregory Evans Gregory Evans 6:09 am 04 Nov 21

Will this be another "trial" by the ACT Government planners that becomes "permanent" without any further consultation. The only thing missing, is, they haven't painted it in rainbow colours

Sophia Lawrance Sophia Lawrance 2:48 am 04 Nov 21

The idea to close Franklin Street to traffic was put forward by the Manuka Traders Association on many occasions back in the late 80’s and was constantly knocked back by the ACT government. Not a new idea at all. The plan then was to close the street and allow outdoor dining and what are now referred to as “pop ups” along the street amongst lovely gardens and street plantings. Done properly it could be lovely.

Matthew James Matthew James 4:46 pm 03 Nov 21

Franklin Street should be closed to motor vehicle traffic permanently.

Frank Arnold Frank Arnold 4:34 pm 03 Nov 21

JP...it is a travesty...it is ugly and pathetic and lacks any sense of ambience or community...Bright orange traffic bollards and concrete barriers...WOW ! such a dining experience ????

Craig Dingwall Craig Dingwall 3:11 pm 03 Nov 21

Great idea for people with mobility issues.

Ian Pearson Ian Pearson 1:53 pm 03 Nov 21

This is an outstanding development. Clearly some tweaking and settling down required, but we intend to be among those who enjoy this long overdue development. Many thanks to those with the foresight to make it happen!

Christopher James Christopher James 10:43 am 03 Nov 21

Desolate… sounds perfect. Will Pearson

Pammy Howarth Pammy Howarth 9:37 am 03 Nov 21

This is a great idea. I will certainly check it out. Love the markets idea.

Guy Blackburn Guy Blackburn 9:08 am 03 Nov 21

We live locally and have used this extensively in the last weekend to support local businesses. It’s a great imitative designed to increase capacity for the local business who have been impacted by COVID. In due course increasing its utility towards a Salamanca market style arrangement on weekends with music etc might entice people back to Manuka which at the moment is in dire need of an injection of funding to bring it back to former glory. One side (where the old cinema used to be) is an absolute eyesore. On the other, many businesses have done nothing to update their offerings to customers. In many they have the same paint scheme they had in the 1970s and the graffiti on the top of the Manuka building has been there for years. Those businesses complaining about new initiative to entice people back to a dead Franklin street might want to think about how they can contribute to solving the problem instead of just wanting it to stay the was it has been and the area continues to struggle to keep businesses afloat and Kingston now drawing all the crowd. This is a great initiative and I congratulate those who are contributing to it. Supporting local small business is a two way street. A contemporary offering where the street looks vibrant and enticing rather than a run down image of a former 70s self might help people to want to go and support these local businesses more. Be part of the solution. Not part of the problem. If you hate change you’re going to hate irrelevance even more. Let’s work together to bring Manuka back as a place people want to go, not just pass through because it lacks style and attraction.

Acton Acton 8:50 am 03 Nov 21

If the ACT government consulted, genuinely consulted, with the real people of the ACT, not just party cadres, panel members and selected focus groups, it would come up with some useful ‘outdoor activation’ ideas. What would make the city more vibrant is to bring back various things the people want but the ACT Government has banned. Like fireworks. Like the Birdman Rally. Like Floriade in Commonwealth Park. Like family friendly events with live music. Remember fun? Having a city vibe is not just about hipsters, grunge and organic coffee.

    tuggeranongist tuggeranongist 9:39 am 03 Nov 21

    The famously hip and grungy streets of Manuka, beloved of this city’s socialist cadres!

    JS9 JS9 9:56 am 03 Nov 21

    Floriade was going back to Commonwealth Park this year, it was only the COVID relateed issues that stopped it.
    And when was the last birdman rally in Canberra? Like 1992….. hardly yesterday lol. Not against it as an idea, but it is a long time since it was a ‘thing’ in Canberra.

    wasn’t the intent for Floriade to go back to Commonwealth park this year – indeed most of the bulbs weren’t . And just how long ago was the last Birdman rally in Canberra – early 90s wasn’t it.

Lejla Nikolas Lejla Nikolas 8:25 am 03 Nov 21

Probably not the best time to come to hard conclusions during post lockdown while we still have some restrictions and while people are still paranoid about crowds …

Kathy Ruston Kathy Ruston 8:09 am 03 Nov 21

I think it’s a fabulous idea, just needs some tweaking. The pathway as it is now is quite crowded at times so this will spread things out a little.

Tom Dale Tom Dale 6:46 am 03 Nov 21

Another “pro-business” idea from Tara “Vouchers” Cheyne. LOL.

Scott Townsley Scott Townsley 6:29 am 03 Nov 21

It’ll be over come WINTER

Rhiannon Agutter Rhiannon Agutter 5:57 am 03 Nov 21

Oh that’s what that is about. I was at coles the other day and was going to pop over to the bookstore afterwards but I thought it was roadworks and the street would be too difficult to navigate so I didn’t bother 🤷🏻‍♀️

    Peter Longland Peter Longland 11:52 am 03 Nov 21

    I did exactly the same - the whole thing screams out 'Roadworks'

Daniel Oyston Daniel Oyston 9:55 pm 02 Nov 21

Imagine if you let businesses tell the Government what their target audience wanted

Robyn Baer Robyn Baer 9:48 pm 02 Nov 21

We were enjoying our outdoor dining experience on The Lawn at Manuka today until the garbage trucks thundered slowly and loudly emptying garbage bins along the laneway next to the eateries and the horrible smell of garbage, diesel fumes and also flies destroyed the experience.

    Tanya Ghenossis Tanya Ghenossis 1:13 am 03 Nov 21

    Robyn Baer Palmerston Lane has existed since at least 1994. Nothing to do with the extra seating that is the subject of the article 🤷‍♀️

    Robyn Baer Robyn Baer 6:47 am 03 Nov 21

    Tanya Ghenossis The trial project is about closing a road off and providing more outdoor dining space. Needs to address the bin collection as it directly impacts diners badly right there. No need to close off the laneway but maybe change collection time to when its less busy.

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