A Perth café owner could face $1 million in fines as a result of a dispute with its local council, which a senior politician has described as an example of “heavy handiness” by local government.
The Yelo café in Trigg, Western Australia, became embroiled in a legal battle with the City of Stirling Council after the local government declared the café to be in breach of planning approval regulations last year.
Yelo, which first opened in 2009, has an outdoor seating area ringing the café. Upon its launch, the café gained planning approval to trade as a convenience store, which did not permit table service but allowed food and drinks to be served in takeaway containers.
However, complaints about congestion caused by the café’s customers lead to a series of inspections by the council, reports PerthNow.
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Customers were reportedly staying at the cafe for up to 45 minutes to eat muesli and drink coffee, which prompted concerns that the business was in breach of regulations that specified the verandah area should be limited to five tables and 20 people at one time.
Fairfax reports Yelo owner Michael Pond requested the café’s definition to be changed from a convenience store to a fast food outlet in 2012, but the council denied the request.
The council’s health and compliance manager Peter Morrison told Fairfax last year the council had attempted to work with Yelo to resolve the disputes, but had seen no success.
“This action was only taken after many years of trying to work with the owners and getting them to comply with their current permitted use,” Morrison told Fairfax.
“Complaints are regularly received from residents in the vicinity of Yelo and the city has a legal obligation to address those concerns.”
Now Pond has chosen to defend his business in court, taking on the council in an ongoing legal case in the Perth Magistrates Court, which began last November.
Local politicians have stepped in to defend the business, with WA’s Deputy Premier Liza Harvey labelling the council’s approach as “heavy handed”.
“The council has a very heavy handed approach when they’re dealing with small business and to be honest with you I’m really sick of it,” Harvey told radio station 6PR.
“What I’m seeing here is the might of the biggest local government in WA, and I pay rates to the City of Stirling, my ratepayer money is being used to prosecute a small business owner who just wants to serve coffees and sandwiches to a community who love him.”
Harvey urged the council to withdraw the court action, saying the council should sit down with Pond rather than “throwing the book at him”.
“It’s a heavy-handed, compliance-driven approach instead of being conciliatory and working with small business owners,” she told 6PR.
Councils “treat small businesses like dirt”
Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong told SmartCompany the situation was “almost beyond words”.
If the hefty fine is passed down, Strong warns the impact on the business and the community could be significant.
“Someone is going to lose their house, their health and a whole range of things, people will lose their jobs,” Strong told SmartCompany.
“That’s someone’s livelihood.”
Strong also criticised local councils in general, labelling them “archaic” and guilty of treating businesses poorly.
“One thing COSBOA has noted is that local councils, the great majority of them, are so far behind the times. They are archaic, and don’t understand business,” Strong says.
“They treat small businesses like dirt.”
SmartCompany contacted Pond and the City of Stirling council but did not receive a response prior to publication.