Shipping container cafe in Warabrook not considered "mobile" by Newcastle City Council | PHOTOS, poll

In storage: Murray Ruse has dismantled his relocatable shipping container cafe in Warabrook because Newcastle City Council considers it a permanent structure needing to meet permanent building codes. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

In storage: Murray Ruse has dismantled his relocatable shipping container cafe in Warabrook because Newcastle City Council considers it a permanent structure needing to meet permanent building codes. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

THE owners of Warabrook’s Cargo Espresso Bar have dismantled their shipping container cafe after their development application to Newcastle City Council exposed a “grey area” for relocatable structures.

Murray and Maria Ruse said they had lost “tens of thousands of dollars” from being unable to trade from their fitted out shipping container while waiting for Newcastle City Council to advise which building standards the premises would have to meet for approval.

“At the moment, they are treating it as a building, not as a relocatable structure,” Mr Ruse said.

That could mean the container might need to be modified to offer toilets and disabled access, he said.

“They don’t seem to have any rules regarding it at all. As far as they are concerned, it’s either mobile or a permanent structure. But it’s a relocatable building, so I think they should have separate guidelines.”

Mr Ruse said he could dismantle and relocate the container within an hour.

“These things – you just put them in until they’ve served their purpose, then you pull them out and move them and it’s as though they were never there,” he said.

Mr Ruse said when Cargo Espresso Bar opened more than 12 months ago they were the first in Newcastle to operate from a shipping container.

“We got some advice that suggested for mobile businesses we didn’t need to do a development application,” Mr Ruse said.

“I rang and asked the council if I needed to submit a DA and they couldn’t tell me. It was a bit of a grey area.”

They paid $500 for a Newcastle City Council food and safety inspection of the cafe, which they passed.

“A couple of months after that a council department contacted us and said we needed to submit a DA,” he said.

Mr Ruse said the person processing it “more or less” told them it was not going to be worth doing.

“They wanted all this extra certification because they were treating it as a building,” he said. “We’re still not sure what rules we’d have to meet because they haven’t gotten back to us, and we’re not allowed to trade.”

Mr Ruse said shipping containers were used all over the world for cafes, restaurants and bars, and were often marketed as “pop up” shops.

“I can’t believe that every other council is making it this difficult,” he said.

A Newcastle City Council spokesperson said the State Environmental Planning Policy could provide exemptions from the need for development consent for “mobile food and drink outlets”, such as a food truck  van, or cart, but they did not consider a shipping container permanently operating from a site as a “mobile structure.”

Mr Ruse said another shipping container business in Hamilton had been put on a trailer to make it “mobile”. 

“I could put ours on a trailer so that it is technically mobile,” he said. “Or maybe I’ll just have to sell it to someone in any other town who can use it.”

He suspected a cafe operating at a similar relocatable building at McDonald Jones Stadium was exempt from the same council regulations due to operating on Crown Land.

“There are shipping container cafes, bars and restaurants in Brisbane, Mudgee, Byron Bay, Sydney, Ourimbah and Perth, they are all over the place,” Mr Ruse said.

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