“A fortnight before we went into lockdown, our Economic Development Portfolio Leader, Councillor Diane Calvert, with my support, set up a short term business sounding board to provide immediate information on the rapidly changing conditions for many of our businesses.”
The group includes business owners from the hospitality, accommodation, retail and broader business community, supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Wellington NZ, and was able to bring forward a number of ideas for Council’s consideration just before lockdown.
Councillor Calvert says: “We signalled to Council officers that we wanted to do everything we could within our powers to support these businesses. They bring vibrancy to the city and they employ thousands of people. We’re trying to soften the blow.”
Mayor Foster says: “The Council listened and last Thursday’s City Council meeting approved a wide range of measures to help businesses as part of a pandemic response and recovery plan which included assistance specifically for the city’s hugely important hospitality industry.”
The approved measures include:
• Rates relief to enable eligible commercial ratepayers to elect to defer their fourth-quarter rates without penalty for at least six months (benefits of rates relief must flow through to tenants) this could include landlords of hospitality businesses – and any other businesses that are struggling financially including with the payment of rent.
• Not charging and in some cases refunding food and alcohol licence fees.
• Stopping fees for outdoor dining areas on public footpaths for the duration of the pandemic when eligible hospitality businesses cannot operate.
Mayor Foster says the package proposed by management originally included free parking until the end of June, and free weekend parking for the following three months. “That was a short-term measure. It was designed to help attract people back into the central city as we emerge from lockdown and businesses try to get back on their feet, and get our people employed again.
“However I suspect businesses will be really disappointed that the majority of Councillors voted to bring back full charges and full enforcement the moment we emerge from lockdown to Level 3. Community transmission remains, and it’s before most businesses are even allowed to open, and there are certainly going to be considerable concerns about using public transport.
“At the Council meeting we again heard from the hospitality sector including a call for emergency off-licences to be made available for bars and cafes. This is the only way many businesses will be able to trade under Level 3, and will help at any level below that.”
Mayor Foster says: “I’m advised the legislation – the Sale and Supply of Liquor Act – does not allow a straight transfer from an on-licence to an off-licence to sell takeaway liquor, for example with a meal. This would require an intervention at central government level and we will make representations to help business at this critical time.”
Cr Calvert says regular ongoing discussions with the sector continues and there will be more initiatives brought forward for the Council to consider. “As we emerge from lockdown, it is important that we build agility and flexibility into how we can best support the sector to survive and recover.
“In the meantime, our city’s economic development agency, WellingtonNZ.com, is on hand to provide advice on how to get through the lockdown and the financial assistance available from the Government.”