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But the Dunedin City Council says while it is not telling people how to run their business, it is not responsible for finding places for people to operate and it has to ensure safe access to sites without it incurring a cost to the council or creating a nuisance for other road users.
A revised mobile-trading bylaw adopted in April that included the dedication of two sites in the Octagon for mobile traders was hailed by traders and councillors as a step forward in improving the city's vibrancy.
But traders say then-unknown restrictions on the use of the Octagon sites render them basically useless to many traders.
The new bylaw removed most restrictions on the areas mobile traders could operate in around the city and established six new sites for mobile traders to lease in the remaining restricted areas.
The Exchange, the Octagon and the Otago Museum reserve each have two sites.
Hannah Scott, the secretary of a group of 15 traders - comprising about half of all licensed traders in the city - which is establishing an incorporated society called the Dunedin Mobile Traders Association, said when the bylaw was adopted the restrictions on the Octagon sites were not clear.
Traders had since found out they could trade there only from 10pm-3am; no vehicles could be driven on to the site because of the potential damage to pavers; and users needed a traffic safety plan for how they would get their vans or trailers in and out.
Miss Scott said there had been general excitement about the idea of mobile traders returning to the Octagon, but the restrictions had dampened that.
''They've told us to apply, so we still are, knowing we are going to get turned away, knowing the site is useless to us.''
Michael Rosenberg, from Mamma Mia Pizza, who operates a mobile pizza business, said he was worried about the traffic safety plan, but had applied and was still optimistic his small operation could comply.
However, Bacon Buttie Man owner Mike Cornelissen said the Octagon site was useless to him because his truck was too heavy.
Council environmental health team leader Ros MacGill yesterday said three individuals and the mobile-trader group had applied for the Octagon sites and staff were still working on Reserves Act issues regarding the museum reserve sites.
After consideration, her team was now flexible about the time restrictions on Octagon sites and open to considering earlier hours of trade, she said.
Transportation policy engineer Jon Visser said there seemed to be a misconception about how onerous the traffic safety plans were.
It was unlikely a mobile trader would be required to present a full traffic management plan with cones, barriers or pilot vehicles, but if people were pulling over on the carriageway and uncoupling trailers or caravans, for example, they would have to wear reflective clothing or use appropriate flashing lights.
People just had to show they had a sensible plan for safely pulling over, stopping and getting their trailers or other equipment on to sites.
Each trader would require a specific plan, and applications would be assessed case-by-case.
Council staff were happy to advise people on what might be considered appropriate in their case.
Canopies, canopy poles and pavers were obstacles for pedestrians, but if a plan showed how such things would be managed so as to cause no damage, it would be considered.
Miss Scott said the traders in her group were still feeling their way around the other new rules.
Two had been trialling working at night in Frederick St and at other times in the Farmers car park, but it was still trial and error, as well as being the down season.