At Sixes And Sevens

Getting access to cafe bars and restaurants is never easy  for reason there nearly always in heritage buildings and interesting niche places such as alleyways and basements, which makes our job all the more interesting.

Starting a new bar or cafe can also means a change of use for the building and this causes some confusion around attaining planning approvals when the authority asks for compliance with the DDA and Access to Premises (buildings) Standard, which relates to changing the building fabric and not the building use per se.

Its this loose terminology that leaves us scratching our heads, nevertheless its our job to navigate our clients through the compliance gridlock with cost effective alternative solutions.

Cafe access to James street Fortitude Valley Brisbane

In a recent project in James Street, Fortitude Valley Brisbane, here, the architects were tasked with converting a heritage house into a cafe bar, which meant a change in use and building upgrades throughout to achieve access.

While the premises standard didn’t apply to the change in use, it did  apply to the area undergoing upgrade, which was difficult as the workers cottage had split levels and a platform lift or ramp was needed to overcome level differences of 400- 500 mm or 4 steps.

Remember this is a tiny  workers cottage in the inner suburb of Brisbane and installing a ramp would eat 3-4 sqm of usable real estate and a typical platform lift occupies about 2 sqm; equal to one table of 4 people for the life of the cafe. The owners considered applying for Unjustifiable Hardship although we advised this is an expensive and uncertain process.

A better outcome is to develop an Alternative Solution to meet the BCA without affecting the viability and construction program.  The alternative to providing both a platform and a staircase was an ‘easy step platform lift’.  The ‘easy step’ functions as both a lift and a set of stairs, returning valuable service area to space for tables and chairs.

As the Australian Standard lift codes AS 1735 series are famously outdated and superseded by European codes, an alternate solution report was needed from an access consultant to demonstrate how the new and innovative product solution would meet the BCA.

Preparing an Alternative Solution involves a detailed investigation of the platform lift and a comparative analysis of European EC lift directives to Australian Standards AS 1735 and AS 1428 for reason the device is both a lift and a stair, and finally an assessment of the suitability of the device in the cafe context.

Outdated, ambiguous and conflicting legal requirements can frustrate the building program and cause financial difficulty, yet in the case of James Street Fortitude Valley Brisbane we demonstrated how flexible the BCA actually is.  With experience, the BCA Performance Provisions can be used to save money, foster competition and innovation and overcome the compliance gridlock experienced by many building owners.

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