Food fee fight

THE latest round of alfresco fee rises from the City of Perth may force several Northbridge restaurant owners to abandon street dining.

And restaurateurs in Fremantle are incensed by their city’s proposal to double alfresco fees.

The City of Fremantle will decide whether to approve the new charges at next Monday night’s council meeting.

The City of Perth’s Alfresco Dining Policy, introduced in 2000, has effectively increased alfresco fees by 375 per cent.

Mamma Maria owner Mal Bennett said the fee was an extra cost that many restaurants could not bear.

Mr Bennett has sent the City of Perth a letter, with a cheque for half the amount due, and said he will consider removing chairs and tables if he is forced to pay the full amount.

“I will consider removing my tables from the sidewalk. The fees are ridiculous,” Mr Bennett said. “I can only use the area for six months of the year because of the weather and I can only use the car bays after 5.30pm.

“Northbridge has taken a hiding in the past few years and people are not coming back here.

“We want some compassion from the council. What do they want? Barren landscapes? Where is the incentive to set up alfresco dining? Can’t they help us when times are tough?”

A City of Perth spokesman said that the increases represented a more realistic fee structure.

“For 10 years (up to about 18 months ago) Northbridge restaurateurs were paying just $20 per square metre a year. The new policy imposes more realistic charges, which are still very cheap in comparison with other States,” the spokesman said.

Sydney City Council charges approximately $416sq m a year compared with Northbridge’s new charge of $82.50, the spokesman said.

However, restaurant owners claim Sydney’s bigger population meant there were more people eating out in that city, justifying the higher charge. In Sydney, the cost per square metre of an alfresco licence is generally cheaper than the cost per square metre of leasing the restaurant. This is not the case for many restaurants in Northbridge.

Restaurant and Catering Industry Association WA president, and Northbridge restaurant owner, Harry Ferrante said the alfresco fee was about equal to the price per square metre on a restaurant building lease.

The City of Fremantle currently charges restaurants on the cappuccino strip $135 per table and will vote on Monday to increase that to $270 per table.

Fremantle Chamber of Commerce executive director John Longley said the fee hike was another slap in the face for small business.

“This is the local government jumping on the band wagon to hamper small business,” he said.

“The Federal Government did it with the GST, the State Government is doing it with this IR legislation, and now the local government wants to add to it.”

City of Fremantle urban development director Geoff Broad said the proposed charges were part of a budget review to cover costs incurred by the city, and that fees had not risen in three years.

The owner of Northbridge’s Fishy Affair, Vashek Winiavczyk, said the rising cost of doing business was a major aggravation.

“They don’t give us any support. Everyone is on the verge of closing and most of us now have to pay $2,500 to put tables and chairs on the street,” Mr Winiavczyk said.

The City of Perth spokesman said the city encouraged alfresco dining, but at a realistic cost, and that the city had not considered offering six-month leases because they had not received any requests to do so.

Mr Bennett questioned how the money accumulated by the City of Perth was spent.

“I’d like to see where our money goes,” he said.

“If it is in promotion then it hasn’t been good enough. For the past three years the promotion of Northbridge has been appalling.”

The spokesman said the city contributed financially to promoting the Northbridge precinct.

“The council is committed to supporting Northbridge as Perth’s cultural and entertainment heart,” he said. “In 1999/2000 a total of $625,000 was spent on marketing, promoting and sponsoring events in Northbridge.”

Before the introduction of the City of Perth’s Alfresco Dining Policy, restaurants in Northbridge were charged $20sqm. The fee is now $82.50sq m.

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