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Public places around the city could become outdoor summer dining hubs as Hamilton City Council throws its weight behind the city’s struggling hospitality sector.

Council today agreed on measures aimed at breathing life into local restaurants and cafes crippled from ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns.

They also asked the Government for urgent help, supporting the Restaurant Association of New Zealand, Hospitality NZ and Heart of the City Auckland in seeking immediate changes to liquor legislation that will allow city diners to have a glass of wine or beer with a meal.

The measures are geared towards enabling Hamilton’s restaurants and cafes to be able to put outdoor tables in the city’s public spaces. This will allow them to trade while still meeting COVID-19 physical distancing requirements.

The changes may throw a lifeline to some central city eateries which have been barely able to trade for nearly six weeks.

Decisions from today’s meeting will see Council automatically extend outdoor dining permits, waiving all fees and charges. Any new outdoor dining applications will be prioritised and issued for 12 months. Council also directed staff to urgently explore how further use of outdoor seating could be used to support the sector.

Mayor Paula Southgate and Deputy Mayor Geoff Taylor have pushed hard for the initiative, alongside Hamilton Central Business Association (HCBA) General Manager, Vanessa Williams.

“These are unusual and desperate times for many hospitality businesses in our city. We wanted to do what we could to get rid of red tape,” Southgate said.

“People’s jobs and livelihoods are on the line and all Councillors have agreed we must do whatever we can to help. We know many of our restaurants and cafes simply don’t have space inside to meet COVID spacing rules.”

“In Hamilton, we are privileged to have some great public spaces so let’s use them,” she said. “Let’s take advantage of that, support our local businesses and help resurrect the city’s dining scene.”

Measures within Council’s control will be in place as soon as possible.  Any move from the Government to loosen up liquor laws and provide for temporary variations to on-licence conditions may take longer.

“We need the Government to change the law urgently so that’s what we’re asking for,” Taylor said.

“But let’s be really clear. We’re not advocating for booze-ups in Garden Place. We simply want people to be able to sit down at a table, enjoy a glass of wine or a beer with a meal from a nearby restaurant – that’s all.”

Williams said hospitality makes up 20% of Hamilton’s central city businesses and the change could make a huge difference to their viability. She was hoping Government would come to the party fast on changes to liquor legislation.

“Our restaurants and cafes are huge contributors and create a real vibrancy and hum in the city over summer. They keep a lot of people in jobs and drive a lot of spending.  The opportunity to extend dining and allow people to enjoy our restaurants despite COVID will be warmly welcomed.”

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