Rules to be relaxed for mobile traders

Kim Morgan.
Kim Morgan.
Restrictions on mobile trading in Dunedin are to be relaxed, although the council has warned it will be looking for mobile traders to pay their fair share of trading costs, as fixed businesses do.

That those costs could be shared fairly with fixed-premises businesses that pay commercial rates was the principal reservation of city councillors, who yesterday voted to adopt the mobile trading and temporary stall bylaw 2014.

The new bylaw, the result of five months' consideration by a council subcommittee, will take effect from May 5, and is expected to result in an increase in mobile trading in the central city.

It removes an anti-competitive clause in the existing bylaw that prevents mobile traders from operating within 300m of premises selling like-kind products, which effectively rules out much of the city for many food traders.

The new bylaw also makes six leased sites available to mobile traders, subject to permission from the council.

The sites are two each in the Museum Reserve, the Octagon beside the carriageway and Wickliffe Square at the Exchange.

The Wickliffe Square sites are restricted to carts or trailers weighing less than a tonne, otherwise they could cause the ground above the underground toilets beneath the square to collapse.

Mobile traders are celebrating the decision to remove the clause, which means they can operate, on a first-come basis, anywhere outside George St, Moray Pl, the Octagon and the north end of Princes St.

''It's a huge advance for mobile trading. It's very, very good,'' mobile trader Kim Morgan said after yesterday's council meeting.

The bylaw was voted in as an interim measure while the council works on a broader bylaw for commercial and community use of public spaces.

It will also consider how to equitably apportion city operational costs across fixed and mobile traders.

It is not clear how long that work will take, although council chief executive Dr Sue Bidrose indicated it would be some time before staff were free to advance it.

Bylaw hearings subcommittee members, chairman Cr Andrew Noone and Crs Jinty MacTavish and Hilary Calvert, said reviewing the bylaw had been a mammoth task.

The new bylaw took a more positive approach and was based on the principles that mobile trading added character and vibrancy to the city's public places, provided services at times and places they might not otherwise be available, improved public safety and provided an affordable entry point and testing ground for business start-ups, they said in a report to the council.

Cr MacTavish told her colleagues the subcommittee was not legally able to consider things like charging mobile traders' fees commensurate with fixed traders' rates, because under the Local Government Act, the requirement was for a bylaw to focus only on protecting health and safety, minimising potential for offensive behaviour and protecting the public from nuisance.

That was why the recommendation was to draft a broader bylaw.

Cr Richard Thomson said he supported it because the existing bylaw held back vibrancy, diversity and interest on the city's streets.

But he and Crs Kate Wilson, Chris Staynes and Andrew Whiley all expressed concerns about mobile traders being allowed to compete with fixed traders, who had to pay rates to operate their businesses in the city.

''That is an inequity we need to take a closer look at,'' Cr Staynes said.

''Every sale [mobile traders] get, they take away from a fixed trader and over time this is a threat to fixed traders.''

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull acknowledged the bylaw was set within a very constrained legal framework.

''But the most important thing is that this is heading towards an enabling bylaw that looks at what kind of streets we want in this city, and how we can control them.''

Cr Noone said the subcommittee had grappled with the same issues their colleagues were raising, but felt they had done their homework and a fair trading environment would be achieved, in time.

''It'll be a better city for it in the long run.''

Mrs Morgan said she expected councillors to raise the rates issue. She said many mobile traders already paid commercial rates, as they also required commercial kitchens for their operations.

She also noted research showed concerns about mobile traders taking business from fixed traders, or fixed traders going mobile because it was cheaper, were wrong and, in fact, increasing mobile trading created more business, improving the economy.

''It's enabling business, rather than prohibiting it.''

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