IF you want coffee, a healthy smoothie, super food or organic snack you don’t really have to go to a local café in Inverloch. You can get it at the ‘Love Your Soul’ food van set up on a commercially-zoned site in the centre of town.
But if you want to support other local ratepayers, a local business which backs your town’s sporting, school and community clubs… then you better think again.
Some local traders in town, especially those operating cafés or established food outlets are up in arms.
They’re not against competition. Bring it on, they say.
But when a food van sets up semi-permanently in town, they believe they should be subject to the same rates and responsibilities as the people they are competing against.
And there’s nothing the shire or anyone else can do about it.
The van owner is operating perfectly legally, approved, inspected and authorised as a licensed Streatrader and can do so almost anywhere else in Victoria.
But even a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, under whose responsibility the Streatrader legislation falls admits the operator might be exploiting a loophole, against the intent of the legislation.
“There’s been such an explosion in the number of these food vans and also in the number of markets and events they attend that this was a way of streamlining their approvals,” said the department spokesman.
“They apply for registration with their own registering council and then simply notify the councils where they are visiting and they can come out and have a look to see if everything is OK.”
That’s it.
But the spokesperson said the idea was to make it easier for mobile food vendors to attend events, not to set up in towns permanently and it may be something that needs to be looked at, he said.
The local shire, in this case the Bass Coast Shire’s hands are tied.
According to the Bass Coast Shire Council’s Acting CEO, Allison Jones, the operator is doing everything according to the rules.
“Mobile food businesses in Victoria register their business with ‘Streatrader’. Their home Council will inspect their premises and facilities before issuing a Food Act permit,”Ms Jones said.
“The business is then able to move around to other municipalities and notify each municipality of their operation via the Streatrader website portal.
“The Council in which they set up operation are not required to go out and inspect the premises each time they move but they are required to react to any complaints.
“If the business is planning on operating on public land or displaying signage they need to apply for any appropriate permits with Council.”
More information on Streatrader is available at streatrader.health.vic.gov.au
Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Pam Rothfield, noted for her pro-business stance, has sympathy for local traders.
“It’s a really difficult one. Very much like the pop-up shops that set up in vacant shops in Cowes over the summer, often with the same sort of clothing etc as the permanent place next door. But they are indirectly paying rates through the landlord who allows them to set up.
“I am familiar with this one and it may be something the government should look at but it’s like a lot of sectors where Uber, Airbnb, Amazon etc have set up. It’s the challenge of business today.
“Maybe a way to meet that challenge is set up a pop-up shop or van yourself and direct traffic back to your main shop.”
So should food vans be able to set up semi-permanently in town or should their permits be limited to festivals, fetes and markets? What’s your opinion? Please leave your comments on the Sentinel-Times Facebook page.