Canberra cafe forced to remove basketball hoop: Are government regulations hurting vibrant business communities?

cafe hospitality

The owner of a Canberra café says government regulations are stopping the city’s ability to create fun community spaces after Australian Capital Territory officials ordered the removal of a basketball hoop outside his venue.

Fox and Bow started business in Farrer two years ago, and owner Alex Piris set up a basketball hoop in an access lane next to the café a year ago.

Three weeks ago representatives from the Transport and City Services Department told the business it would have to remove the hoop after a report of a near miss between a child and car in the area.

However, Piris tells SmartCompany he did not get to see details of a complaint. This morning the company is calling on the government to consider building a new park across the road from the strip of shops opposite the cafe to maintain the vitality the business has tried to generate in the area.

“We’re only two years old – there wasn’t a whole lot going on at the local shops before. When we came and we put something that looked like a modern style café, we think the community supported us that way,” Piris says.

“I had a customer just this morning talking to me me how we grew up – I’m 43, I’m not that old, but it’s not that long ago that we’re playing in the streets – but we’re all so scared now,” he says.

Piris says that the SME community in Canberra faces the challenge of finding quality staff in café businesses in what is known as a public service centric town, and he wishes the conversation with businesses and regulators was more open when it comes to issues like this.

“It’s not about the hoop – that’s just the object that we’re discussing,” he says.

“It’s about the ability to provide spaces that people want.”

Customers of all ages stopped by to shoot hoops after having a coffee, and the Fox and Bow business has a clear mission to add some energy into a lacklustre shopping environment in the area.

“Small business is tough. We rely on the local community and we employ local kids, we’ve certainly taken a gamble coming out here,” Piris says.

SmartCompany contacted Transport and City Services to clarify the source of the complaint against the business. A spokesperson said in a statement there was a “report” of a near miss that led it to action.

“We will work with local businesses, community representatives and members of the public about the laneway’s ongoing usage,” City Services said.

“We appreciate that the community values this space as a play area, but safety is also a priority, particularly around roads,” a spokesperson for Transport and City Services told Fairfax on the issue.

It’s understood the basketball hoop was on unleased land and could be ordered to be removed.

Customers have expressed sadness about the removal of the basketball hoop, but are enthusiastic about the idea of a better established park in the area and have posted messages of support for the business. The vitality of community and retail spaces in the area is a key concern.

Greens member for Murrumbidgee Caroline Le Couteur has shown support for the café, saying that while she understands the basketball hoop was on unleased territory land, there are many instances of items on unleased land that never attract the attention of government.

“If you saw the site you would see that there was no risk that the kids would be hit by cars as it is a short, narrow and curving laneway,” she said on Facebook, highlighting her plans to push for an upgrade to the park in the area in the Legislative Assembly.

Read more: Melbourne businesses are closing down thanks to “dumb” council parking restrictions

Council regulations and community

Peter Strong, chief executive of the Council of Small Business of Australia, believes this is an example of how regulators are out of step with the desires of the community.

“They’re so bound up by red tape and ideology that they’re making the world a very boring place,” he told SmartCompany.

Smaller operators regularly have to respond to complaints to councils, which business owners have previously told SmartCompany can be complicated to negotiate. In May, a Melbourne bookshop closed after a customer complained about “visual noise” the store produced.

While complaints made over safety “might be a Scrooge or might be genuine,” Strong says these issues often come down to just one individual speaking out, which has a direct impact on businesses.

For smaller operators in the Canberra business community, he believes the challenge is creating the spaces for these companies to thrive.

“The big problem for Canberra is urban planning – you’ve got shopping malls there, but shopping malls have no have imagination,” says Strong, himself a Canberra resident.

Fox and Bow have a clear idea of what they want to achieve, hoping to build a space that brings communities together with good food.

“How much s–t has Canberra copped over the years for being a public service town? It puts pressure on all the other industries to survive and prosper,” Piris says.

“We serve good coffee – and it’s just about having some fun – it’s about how people feel.”

*This article was updated at 8:40am on December 8 to include comments from Transport Canberra and City Services. 

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