January 24, 2016 – 6:02PM
Alana Schetzer, Anna Whitelaw
Mary Cantsilieris, right, who had about 20 people attend her birthday party, had no idea she may be required to buy a permit. Photo: Justin McManus
Packed the picnic blanket? What about the dips and cheese? And don’t forget the sunscreen and permit.
Permit? As Melburnians flock to parks and gardens for Australia Day and other celebrations this summer to soak up the sun and spend time with family and friends, some councils are charging for social gatherings with anywhere between 20 and 500 guests.
At some of Melbourne’s most popular spots for a scenic afternoon, councils require groups to register and pay for a permit, which is then checked by patrolling council officers.
Laura Mcarthy celebrates her birthday with friends and a picnic in Edinburgh Gardens. Photo: Paul Jeffers
In Port Phillip, which includes popular bayside suburbs such as St Kilda, Elwood and Albert Park, parties of 20 or more people need an $82 permit, which buys them two hours to enjoy a beer and throw the frisbee around. Each additional hour costs $41.
Port Phillip locals who frequent those parks were shocked to hear they would be expected to pay to gather in public parks.
Bentleigh resident Mary Cantsilieris spent Sunday afternoon in Point Ormond park in Elwood at a picnic with family and friends.
Laura Mcarthy (foreground) celebrates her birthday with friends and a picnic in Edinburgh Gardens. Photo: Paul Jeffers
The 30-year-old told Fairfax Media she had “no idea” she would have been expected to pay for a permit for the small gathering of 20-25 people.
“It is easier to get together in a park than at a restaurant, where all the kids can play outside,” she said.
“It is pretty unreasonable that we would be expected to pay for a permit. After all, we pay our rates and other taxes, and we’ve paid for parking.
Some councils are charging for social gatherings in some of Melbourne’s most popular spots.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they started charging us to go to the beach,” she said.
Port Phillip mayor Bernadene Voss said permits were used to ensure fair use for ratepayers and visitors – there were 1.38 million visitors to the St Kilda area last financial year.
“On public holidays, we can attract large numbers of locals and visitors alike, with up to 80,000 people coming to our foreshores on New Year’s Eve. We’re expecting similar numbers or more for Australia Day, depending on the weather,” she said.
“We have a significant number of popular parks and beaches and we encourage people to share those public spaces to celebrate and have fun in the sun.
“These spaces experience strong demand and are often used throughout the entire day.”
At the Edinburgh Gardens in North Fitzroy, a popular destination frequented by food trucks, groups of 50 or more need a $95 permit from Yarra City Council.
Yarra has faced problems at Edinburgh Gardens in the past, with huge rave-style parties held on New Year’s Eve without a permit or notification.
Mayor Roberto Colanzi said a permit was also needed if groups wanted to reserve a section of a park.
Melbourne City Council, which is home to some of Melbourne’s biggest and most popular gardens including the Fitzroy Gardens and Carlton Gardens, requires groups of 50 or more to have a permit.
A Melbourne Council spokeswoman said council officers regularly check large groups to ensure they have approval.
Most Victorian councils require permits if a person or organisation is carrying out activities for commercial purposes, such as personal training. Weddings also often require a permit.
In the lead-up to Australia Day, the issue of “social squatting” has been raised, with some people arriving hours before their picnic or event to reserve the best spot.
The Melbourne Council spokeswoman said it was not an unusual practice, especially in summer, adding that the council very rarely received complaints about it.
“Our rangers are aware that arriving early to reserve a good picnic spot is a fairly common practice in our parks on busy public holidays such as Australia Day.
“Our rangers will often encounter families or groups that have been returning to the same barbecue spot on Australia Day for over 10 years.”
Cr Colanzi said the council had not received complaints about “squatting”.
Source : The Age