Thursday, 7 June 2012

Reducing red tape in Freo

Recently I was kicking back enjoying a high octane espresso from Black Cherries at the Freo markets.  Sitting in the section near the brand new cooking school (it's great that a more permanent seating area has been created in the part of the markets) I began to think about that old chestnut of mine - red tape.

When it comes to describing the problems of red tape in the context of attempting to revitalise Freo, I particularly enjoy Winston Churchill's phrase about standing in a bucket and trying to lift oneself up by the handle.

David Engwicht is a prominent placemaker who has visited Freo frequently over the past few years. David's key message to bureaucrats is that the most effective way for local governments to do placemaking is to get out of the way by reducing red tape. He strongly advocates starting a red tape reduction party.

Is the party getting started in Freo?

David was recently in town again and I'm glad to report that Council has begun chipping away at some red tape.

An amendment to the planning scheme has been initiated that simplifies the process for people seeking planning approval for small bars, restaurants, shops, offices and consulting rooms in the city centre. This is a great initiative by Council and staff.

As the cool Melbourne guy (aka Dean Cracknell, aka @city_pragmatist) reported in his recent Freo Quick Shot article, Council has also reapplied to the powers-that-be for the reintroduction of the relaxed liquor rules that were successfully implemented as part of ISAF. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like certain state government agencies want to join the party.

So it seems that the party has started, but it still has a little way to go before it fires up. 

How to keep the party going?

Here are some of my thoughts about how to help Freo's red tape reduction party be the coolest party in town.

1. Review the number of licences and approvals a trader needs to set up an alfresco area.

For me, one of the lowlights of last year was the Moore and Moore Cafe alfresco debacle. The situation really begged the question: why does a trader need multiple licences and approvals to simply allow people to drink coffee outdoors?

One way Council could keep the red tape reduction party going is to revisit why traders need multiple licences and approvals for alfresco. There could be an opportunity to streamline the process so that confusion could be minimised and traders could focus on doing what they do best.

2. Annual 360 degree reviews

I'm sure that traders, landowners and residents would love to let the City of Fremantle know what aspects of red tape are needless, suffocating and just plain absurd. Like the Arthur Head artists, they may also have some useful and practical ideas for how the City may continue the transition from a stifling bureaucracy into an enabling bureaucracy.

These reviews offer the opportunity for the City of Fremantle to be the first local government authority to publically report on its red tape reduction initiatives annually.

3. No more silos

We've all seen the Greek-like tragedy of the installation of the CCTV cameras around the city centre play out for our entertainment.

Like these failures, new rules that are prepared in isolation can be a real problem. The City has the luxury of being able to summon interested precinct groups, different traders' associations and the Chamber of Commerce to provide input into proposed rules prior to substantially commencing their preparation. I'd like to see this luxury taken advantage of more often so that new rules and regulations are not preparing in silos.

4. Consider impact on small businesses

I don't know if there is one, but the City could consider introducing a small business impact test that would be applied to new rules and regulations. For those impacts found to be above a given threshold on small business, the City could tailor portions of the regulation to lessen this impact.


The story about the introduction of alfresco dining to Freo in the eighties provides solid proof about what is possible when local government chooses to facilitate innovation and cut pointless red tape.

I'm glad to see that the current Council has started its own red tape reduction party and I'm keen to see the party continue.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Michael,that red tape is holding back many small businesses, like wine bars and cafes. I also know there is a push at council level to reduce it. The granny flat application process for example has been made easier and faster.

    It is not acceptable that people pay for business premises they can't use because of red tape. I have seen some close down before opening because of the costs involved. the process needs to be more humane and compassionate and officers need to understand the hardship!

    Roel Loopers