Gisborne District Council must “act now” to ensure the future of the central business district.
That is the plea from Gisborne Chamber of Commerce in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Some city businesses have already folded for good, and with the prospect of even more empty shops and cafes, help is needed, says Chamber president Paul Naske.
“Firstly, let's hope Level 3 only lasts the suggested two weeks and we can quickly get to Level 2 and beyond,” he said.
“But this is not just a business problem. This is a wider community problem and that is how we need to respond.
“The SME (Small and Medium Enterprise) businesses in our community are incredibly important and we as a community need to rally around them.
“We strongly encourage everyone to shop locally now more than ever; that is what we can all do in Level 3 . . . support local.
“It is inevitable some retail businesses will not survive in the coming months and we will see more empty shopfronts. Hopefully, some will return in time.
“GDC needs to act now to the extent that it can. It needs to give a rates holiday for six months so long as it is passed on to the retailer. Also, make parking free immediately to encourage as much shopping in town as possible.
“Discussing and modifying the Spatial Plan is very important but is going to take way too long for the immediate needs of those retailers trying to get back on their feet.”
The situation is also concerning for city centre cafes and restaurants.
“Early indications are that nationally we may see a third of businesses not last the coming winter,” Hospitality NZ East Coast regional manager Alan Sciascia said.
“With all having been closed through April and much reduced trade since early February and March, most hospitality businesses have missed a significant amount of business they usually depend on to generate profits to carry them through the winter.
“It's going to be tough.”
Mr Sciascia said further support was required for hospitality businesses (especially small and medium businesses) adversely affected by Covid-19 and unable operate during levels 3 and 4.
“The hospitality industry is — for most councils — the heart of the community, offering our communities social and economic wellbeing, employing hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders.
“We acknowledge that draft annual plans have been developed well before Covid-19. However, as these are unprecedented times unprecedented action is required.”
That action should mean no rates increases.
“It is alarming that some councils across the country are considering proceeding with large rate increases, some in excess of 10 percent.
“In the current climate, we strongly urge all councils to consider no increases for the next 12 months at a minimum.”
The council should also consider rates remissions or rebate options for businesses adversely affected, including delaying rate instalments and waiving late payment fees. These should be time-bound — we suggest up to six months.
“In addition, we encourage and support the establishment of a local and central government Covid-19 response team, working alongside industries to address key topics that councils are challenged with, from finance and recovery and community wellbeing to governance and coordination — all forming and shaping decision-making of councils over the coming weeks and months.”
GDC chief financial officer Pauline Foreman said retailers facing hardship and unable to pay their rates could apply for rates postponement for up to six months.
“Under this arrangement they will not be charged late penalties but the council's cost on interest will be applied for the postponement period.
“Retailers will need to apply and meet the conditions of the application.
“There are some other options for payment plans to make rates more manageable during this time.”
At this stage, no decision had been made around free parking in the CBD.