As customers avoid indoor venues, government pushes for outdoor dining

Planning Minister Rob Stokes says the NSW government is working on long-term plans to make better use of streets and public spaces as cafes, bars and restaurants struggle amid the pandemic.

Business groups are urging councils to close streets to traffic and embrace more rooftop venues in a bid to encourage outdoor dining as people increasingly avoid indoor venues.

The state government's 24-hour economy strategy is due to go to cabinet this month, but it will need an overhaul because of new restrictions imposed on venues since the coronavirus crisis hit.

Sydney needs to turn to rooftop bars and outdoor dining as the COVID-19 pandemic hits the night-time economy.Credit:Edwina Pickles

With NSW still on high alert, the Committee for Sydney is leading the call for changes to the way cafes, restaurants and bars operate, saying people would feel safer attending outdoor venues.

The group's chief executive Gabriel Metcalf said discussions must turn to the transformation needed to save businesses under pressure as people are increasingly nervous about indoor venues.

Mr Metcalf said there was "no reasons why we can't reclaim the streets for nightlife", saying councils needed to make it easier for businesses to trade outdoors as people increasingly seek to avoid indoor venues.

Local businesses are pushing for restaurants to expand into outdoor and rooftop dining. Credit:Getty Images

The Sydney Business Chamber also supports outdoor dining and better use of public spaces, such as footpaths and parks for pop-up retail and hospitality.

"It will help businesses to manage the social distancing rules while being able to welcome more customers," the chamber said in a Facebook post.

Mr Stokes said the government was keen to "support vibrant, COVID-safe streetscapes".

"Our streets and public spaces have been such a valuable community asset during COVID-19," Mr Stokes said.

"That’s why we have introduced initiatives like the $15 million Streets as Shared Spaces Program to encourage councils to think creatively about how we can support social distancing in our neighbourhoods."

NSW Labor's night-time economy spokesman John Graham said Mr Stokes should use his ministerial powers under the COVID legislation to it easier for venues to host outdoor music and dining.

"The same laws that were used to keep truckies and tradies in work could be used to save the jobs of musicians and hospitality workers," Mr Graham said.

"Members of the community will feel safer at these venues if they can be outdoors, on a rooftop or spilling on to the street.

"This is one of the ways we can bring music back to our city and keep people safe."

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has repeatedly urged young people to curb their socialising after a Sydney man in his 20s with COVID-19 visited seven restaurants, pubs and a Woolworths within 48 hours.

People in their 20s make up the largest proportion of COVID transmissions in NSW and nationally.

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