By Luke Voogt
A “long-delayed” demolition to open up Geelong’s laneways needs to be urgently fast-tracked as COVID-19 restrictions ease, according to a CBD trader.
Piano Bar owner Andy Pobjoy called for Geelong council to speed up a demolition to extend Dennys Lane to help central Geelong businesses operate outdoors.
With state government relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in regional Victoria yesterday, the extension could help neighbouring eateries and entertainment venues recover, Mr Pobjoy said.
“A space like that just next to Piano Bar would be insanely good. Instantly we could get 50 people in that space.”
Restrictions now permit hospitality venues to serve up to 50 seated patrons outdoors with a two square metre density limit.
Venues can only seat a total of 20 people (10 per separated area) indoors with stricter density limits.
The call to fast-track the project comes after state and federal MPs jointly announced the purchase of an internet café to make way for the laneway expansion, as part of a $370 million Geelong City Deal.
But Mr Pobjoy said Geelong council had been working on the additional laneway between Little Malop Street and Malop Street since 2015.
“We’ve been talking about for it for years.”
While he acknowledged council could not have predicted the pandemic, he said the laneway could have already boosted the recovery of businesses reopening after lengthy COVID-19 closures.
Council officers going back and forth between the owner of the internet café and a nearby carpark to secure a route for the laneway delayed negotiations, Mr Pobjoy said.
Council’s acting investment and attraction director Brett Luxford said City Hall would work with project partners to deliver the laneway expansion as soon as possible.
But council would also take “time to get the planning right so it isn’t rushed and leaves a lasting positive legacy for Geelong”, Mr Luxford said.
Geelong council welcomed state government this week announcing $87.5 million for councils outside of Melbourne’s CBD to develop outdoor dining and entertainment.
Council plans to apply for $500,000 from the package to help waive permit fees and upgrade infrastructure, and has encouraged local businesses to apply for $5000 grants available in the package.
Council has provided rent assistance to the owner of Guf Internet Café and committed to finding them an alternative venue.