A Line in the Sand: Decision highlights barriers to creativity

RIDICULOUS. That was the word being thrown about this week when Masons of Bendigo was told to remove the picket fence from the footpath outside the restaurant.

After weeks of negotiation, the City of Greater Bendigo decided the fence:

- Was not constructed using an approved material;

- Was not constructed to the approved height and

- Enclosed the outdoor dining area in a manner that does not encourage active street frontage.

Yes, the fence was put up without permission, but golly gee what a shame one of the most tasteful al fresco dining areas in the city’s CBD now has to be pulled apart because of a loose code that claims to “set out the urban design standards for a lively city’’.

Lively? For the most part, the footpath along Queen Street between Mitchell and Williamson streets is difficult to navigate and strewn with trolleys or clothing racks full of sale items.

In other areas of the CBD, you have clothing racks on wheels and canvas banners with bold marketing. Some of them are just plain ugly and do little to entice people to stop in the heart of our city.

In keeping with its award-winning menu, Masons opted for a tasteful look. A look that most agree lifts Queen Street and the CBD – and certainly encourages activity on the street.

The code talks about visual cues and the need to ensure spaces are “visually open’’ despite being closed off.

Barriers must be made of glass or low steel frames with canvas banners, and meet certain height requirements – but gosh, how unappealing would Masons be if it conformed to the generic Colorbond fence approach?

Part of the Masons dining experience is that it is intimate and warm – and the picketed area further enhances this.

After all, this is a building that overlooks a taxi rank – what a clever idea to give diners their own space rather than watch people come and go in cabs day and night.

This is not a fast food or take away, quick-bite-out-the-front venue. It is a place where people go to take their time and enjoy the experience. 

It is a place where people are willing to pay extra for something a bit nicer.

Surely, this city should be celebrating and encouraging anyone willing to invest in the CBD and try to raise its image and enhance its look.

The code also talks about footpath access and the need for all members of the community to freely move throughout the city.

To suggest the fence does not allow for pram, wheelchair or general access is ludicrous – you could almost bet anyone trying to access Queen Street on wheels would not be doing so from the road outside Masons – they would be doing so from the ramped areas, or car parks allocated to wheelchair spaces.

Given the pickets only go as deep as the tables and chairs permitted outside, there is still plenty of room on the footpath for all.

Masons cleverly put together an outdoor dining area that should have set the scene for our CBD going forward.

Creating an exciting CBD won’t happen if we paint every business with the same brush. 

What Masons of Bendigo offered was exciting for those happy to see a positive new direction – what a shame it will be short lived.

Nicole Ferrie is the Bendigo Advertiser’s deputy editor.  Email nicole.ferrie@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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