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Nelson Businesses Offered Relief Amid “Toughest Winter” In Decades

Nelson businesses are staring down one of “the toughest winters" in decades as restaurant bookings dry up and spending drops.

The council is looking at a number of measures to ease the pressure to help businesses through the tough economic climate, including a "recession rebate".

“It's a difficult time to be running a restaurant,” said Eight Plates owner Pete Coates.

“Winter in Nelson is already tough. People are being very careful with their money.”

Bookings plummeted at the Trafalgar Street restaurant from April.

“Anything that the council can do to help us through this period, to keep these great businesses going until we get to a place where people are more comfortable with their money – great.”

Nelson City Council on Thursday approved a “recession rebate”, which will give businesses relief of $25 per square metre of land they lease through their commercial occupation licence. This licence allows businesses to lease footpath and parking space for outdoor seating.

The rebate has been introduced alongside the council’s work to update its commercial occupation policy and its urban environments bylaw.

It’s only a temporary measure, due to begin when the new policy is adopted in September, and will run until 30 June 2025 - though the council could extend the rebate for another year if the economy hasn’t recovered.

Other proposed changes to the occupation policy and bylaw are now out for consultation until 10 July.

One suggestion is that the annualised occupation fees have a summer rate of 75 per cent and a winter rate of 25 per cent as business revenue often drops in the colder months.

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The council is also proposing to simplify the commercial occupation licence fees.

Currently, the fee to lease public spaces, like the footpath, is determined individually for each site and is based upon factors like location, size, and light.

But councillor Tim Skinner warned that fee change could come as a “quite a shock” for some businesses.

“Some either go up or some will go down,” he suggested. “There are some losers and winners.”

Restaurant owner Coates said the rebate was an “excellent idea” and supported the seasonal approach.

“In winter, we're all paying for these outside spaces and not using them.

"If I was to not pay and remove all my furniture because I'm not using it, that would make the street look really dead, and I'm not sure that's what council would want.”

James Rutherford, owner of the Hardy Street Eatery, similarly welcomed the rebate.

“Our rates are going up, all other costs are going up, so any savings that we can make are brilliant.”

“Since the tourists have dried up … it’s been quite tough,” he added.

“I know a lot of central city retail and hospitality are finding it hard and are thinking this is potentially one of the toughest winters they’ve been through.”

However, one council proposal received a more muted response from businesses: removing sandwich boards from the footpath.

Crackerjack Toys is located off Trafalgar Street, in the Nelson Central mall, and proprietor Tahae Lowe said he would “prefer to be able” to use a sandwich board.

“We are not on the main road and many visitors to the city do rely on the sandwich boards to know where we are.”

Both Coates and Rutherford expressed similar reservations, saying the boards enticed customers.

The restriction would only apply to sandwich boards on public property, such as the footpath.

Mayor Nick Smith said he was “open-minded” about the proposal to remove boards but was also conscious of the difficulties facing businesses.

“Small businesses, particularly in the central city, are facing the toughest winter that they will have had in decades, and while this is only a small change, it is a change that chips away their business and their confidence.”

Skinner was even more critical of the proposal.

“Are we trying to kill businesses by a thousand cuts?”

Deputy mayor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens pointed out that the council had received past feedback, particularly from the blind and low-vision community and those with mobility issues, that said sandwich boards were additional obstacles to navigate.

“When members of our community raise accessibility concerns, we have an obligation to engage with them and to hear those concerns and to respond to them.”

If the council opted to remove sandwich boards from the streets, businesses could apply for a “very minor” resource consent to have one.

Local Democracy Reporting is local body journalism co-funded by RNZ and NZ On Air

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