Sunday, January 5, 2014

Pay up for commercial use of public space!

There are both pleasures and frustrations which come with living adjacent to prime public space. The pleasures can be music from a Sunday morning violin drifting in from the park or an impromptu T.I. evening concert around the BBQ. However, being woken at sunrise to the thwacking sound of a boot camp group punching leather is for me not one of those pleasures!

The introduction of fees for such commercial use of public space has been spreading and attracted much discussion and debate. A post at The Conversation discusses some of the issues: Public park or private gym: boot camps or bloody nuisance?

There is a also a recent perspective from Gene Tunny at Queensland Economy Watch: Gold Coast PT's should pay fees to use parks:

I noticed in the Gold Coast Bulletin that personal trainers on the GC are outraged the Council will start imposing an annual $200 fee for them to use parks, consistent with councils in Brisbane and elsewhere. It makes sense for councils to charge GC PTs who are gaining commercial advantage from using parks because they don’t have to pay rent for the space. Indeed, it might even make sense for the Council to charge even more than $200, depending on how much the PT uses the park.
There is also an interesting discussion of this at Australian Fitness Network where it seems not all operators are opposed and insurance cover is also raised as a significant issue. I presume these public parks effectively become a workplace for the business although am unsure of the legal position here and any consequences for Council?

I'm unsure of the current arrangements for this in Cairns but have been informed there have been fees applied  for a few years now. There has instead been lively discussion around a fee for commercial photography in public spaces, which particularly relates to weddings. At least in principle the same rationale for fees should apply.

Note here that we are not talking about user-pays for public use of a public space but commercial exploitation of a public resource by a business. In a recent twitter exchange I suggested a comparison with mining taxes and royalties although this was a bit cheeky with a clear difference that minerals are not a renewable resource.

To witness some who would self-describe as of the ideological left defend free commercial exploitation of a publically funded resource is slightly bizarre. Perhaps they haven't thoroughly thought through their position?

Rather than council being forced to justify a fee for such commercial business activities there needs to be a clear justification for why any particular activity should be exempt. For both kinds of activity mentioned here business operations and scale at the fringe may be difficult to define and regulate. Collection costs may then be inefficient.

There is an argument that the proliferation of the photography through social media has a positive public benefit in promoting Cairns. This only works for me if it can be demonstrated that any fee would materially inhibit that which seems unlikely?

It is to be hoped that council policy in principle is to impose fees for any commercial business use of public space unless there is appropriate justification for exemption. At least I can sleep easier knowing that the boot camp thwackers over the road are assisting to ameliorate my $4k p.a. council rates bill, even though still not able to sleep in!


  1. Commercial photography fees, either by use or annual permits, are very very common around the world. There are good and sensible reasons why these people should be required to obtain this (very minimally priced) permit. We require permits of buskers. The photographers are using the public's investment for commercial gain. Does this council have any backbone at all?

    Adelaide charges $200 for EACH USE of their Botanic Gardens.

  2. It looks like this story provided News Ltd filler elsewhere in the holiday season also as Pia Akerman took time out from watching Peppa Pig with Dad to run with it in The Oz. The $278 annual fee looks quite modest compared to some!

  3. I am a ratepayer who never uses the lagoon, football fields, zumba classes, library, free wifi etc so if I wanted some photo I would expect a freebie as I pay for everyone else without complaint. Everywhere else they pay to use a public pool, pay for internet and pay exercise classes so perhaps each ratepayer can get a voucher for a free professional photo at least.