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Food truck demand overwhelms city council regime

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The number of entrepreneurs wanting to open new food trucks in Adelaide’s CBD is more than four times the number of trading permits the city council has made available, InDaily can reveal.

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A total of 30 permits are available under the city council’s licensing regime, which was controversially adopted to the chagrin of Premier Jay Weatherill in late 2015.

Of those 30, five permits are set aside for bricks-and-mortar businesses looking to branch into mobile vending, while five additional permits are reserved for new entrants into the industry.

But InDaily understands demand has overwhelmed both categories.

The council has received 22 applications to open completely new food trucks in the city and seven applications from fixed city businesses for this year’s permits.

Image: Leah Zahorujko / InDaily.

Image: Leah Zahorujko / InDaily.

Labor MP Chris Picton told InDaily it was “ridiculous” that new businesses were being prevented from starting up because of council “red tape”, and especially ridiculous that fixed city businesses – which the council hopes to protect from unfair competition from food trucks with lower overheads – were also being denied the opportunity to open mobile operations in the city.

“It’s a very bizarre system they [the council] have imposed,” said Picton.

“It’s amazing that they would turn away people who already have bricks-and-mortar businesses, who want to operate a food truck as well.

“It should be up to people [consumers] to decide what type of food they want.”

The Legislative Council will next month debate a State Government bill to strip local councils’ powers to limit the number of food trucks in their area.

Picton said that the new bill would not remove councils’ powers to dictate the location of food trucks, and stressed that fixed businesses were reasonable to be concerned by a competing business operating on public land close-by.

But acting Lord Mayor Megan Hender told InDaily the council’s scheme had always been designed to balance the interests of mobile food vendors and existing city businesses.

“There will always be a tension between the needs of the mobile food vending people … and the needs of the existing businesses, who clearly have some, I think fair, expectations that a local government authority would not put a competing business on public land in front of their business,” she said.

She said that the council’s licensing criteria requires food trucks to trade regularly, to use Australian – and especially South Australian – produce, to have a unique offering and to use sustainable packaging.

“We do have a bit of a concern that those criteria aren’t going to be … in the new legislation,” she said.

“People are using public space: public land, public benefit.”

However, Hender said that “if there is more demand than current permit arrangements will provide, that’s going to be fixed by the legislation”.

She added that the council welcomed the idea of consistent regulation of food trucks across the state – so that food truck vendors would not have to dramatically change the way in which they operate, depending on the local council area in which they trade.

As InDaily reported in October, the Government faces an uphill battle to pass its legislation.

Picton said he still hoped to convince the Liberal Party, and crossbenchers, to support the bill.

Liberal MP Steven Griffiths told InDaily his party maintained that food truck regulation should remain in the hands of local government.

He said, however, that the city council should review its licensing regime to cater for growing demand.

“The Liberal Party wants to support entrepreneurs,” he said.

“I’m disappointed that those 17 [new food truck applicants] won’t be given an opportunity … but this is an issue that can be managed at the local level.

“I do believe there’s a need for the Adelaide City Council in this case … to have policies in place for current needs.”

He said the food trucks industry – first established in the city in 2013, as part of the council’s Splash Adelaide vibrancy program – was “a changing area” and councils should review their regimes annually.

Fork on the Road Food truck festival organiser Joe Noone said the high demand for trading permits was “a really good sign and a sign for optimism in the sector” and that he was confident the council would be “flexible and responsive” to changing demand.

Current permits last until the end of 2017.

Vendors who currently hold permits in the ‘new vendors’ category will have to apply as ‘existing vendors’ next year.

If the same ‘existing vendors’ reapply, therefore, there will only be three spots left for this year’s five ‘new vendors’.

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