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Are pop-up businesses a "cancer" on Adelaide?

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Are food trucks and pop-up businesses a sign of innovation, or are they the death knell for a city in decline?

Adelaide City Councillors delivered wildly divergent prognoses for Adelaide’s CBD during a committee meeting last night, which – after a vigorous debate – agreed to recommend higher fees and wider exclusion zones for mobile food vendors.

“In the urge to be young and funky, we are adding one more nail into the coffin of our quickly emptying city,” area councillor Anne Moran told the committee.

“Pop-ups are something that happens when you haven’t got a healthy business environment.

“It is a cancer – a necrotising fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria) – to have popups and Renew Adelaide going through.

Area councillor Anne Moran.

Area councillor Anne Moran.

“Renew Adelaide’s doing a great job, but when Renew Adelaide spreads with their ventures through the city, it’s a sign of the city failing.

“The more pop-ups that Renew Adelaide does – while that’s a wonderful, vibrant, stop-gap – (that) is the sign of death going through our city.”

Area councillor Sandy Wilkinson agreed.

He suggested that all mobile food vendor fees should be doubled, and the 25-metre exclusion zone separating bricks-and-mortar businesses from mobile businesses should be widened to 100 metres within business hours.

“What we are doing is setting up operators in direct competition with our city businesses,” said Wilkinson.

“There’s no effing equity between someone paying $2,750 a year, compared to someone paying $35,000 plus a year.

“(Mobile food vendors) can afford to … undercut other businesses because they’re paying so little in licence fees.”

Wilkinson’s motion failed.

Deputy Lord Mayor Houssam Abiad moved a successful motion to recommend expanding the exclusion zone to 50 metres, increasing fees for mobile food vendors and subsidising established businesses entering the program for the first time.

The wider exclusion zone raises questions about where mobile vendors will still be able to trade within the square mile.

However, vendors would be able to sign written agreements with established businesses to operate within the exclusion zone.

Under the recommendation, the most expensive permits for mobile vendors – trading over the six-month “summer period” – would increase from $1,100 to $2,000.

Abiad said the program gave businesses the chance to innovate, but also said it harmed established businesses.

“What we’re doing here is robbing the poor to pay the poor,” he said.

“There is no data that backs that more people are coming to the city because we have food trucks.”

Area councillor Robert Simms opposed Abiad’s motion.

He said he was concerned the council was increasingly being seen as a dampener of innovation and vibrancy in the city.

“I am concerned about this council potentially being seen as the wet blanket brigade, coming in and dousing things in cold water when we’ve got new ideas emerging,” he said.

“This council … shouldn’t be moving down the path of protectionism at the expense of supporting innovation in our city.”

Lord Mayor Martin Haese argued the Mobile Food Vendor program was as helpful both for start-ups and existing businesses.

“I had four retail stores in Rundle Mall (so) you would think I’d be the most draconian person when it comes to this proposed policy; I’m not,” he said.

“We don’t want to get ourselves into the position where we’re not rewarding or incentivising innovation.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese.

“We want to bring different things into the city whenever we possibly can, and we want to transition them wherever we possibly can to a permanent outcome.

“Sometimes city traders … like to trial a new concept, and they like to do that in a low-risk, short-term environment which might then give them the confidence to do something permanent and expand their business.

“I don’t think we want to dampen that spirit.”

The recommendations will be the subject of a new round of consultation before the council makes its final decision.

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