Although pavement cafés and restaurants have long been a feature in southern Europe, British weather has tended to constrain our enthusiasm for dining or drinking al fresco outside the summer months.
Covid-19 has changed all that: social distancing means that all hospitality venues have to be mindful of their internal spacing requirements and as such, those able to do so have been applying for pavement licences to enable them to provide an outdoor seating area where they can serve food and drink.
Acknowledging the strain under which the hospitality industry is operating, the government has temporarily simplified the process of applying for a pavement licence which, if granted by the local authority is valid until 30 September 2021.
Applying for a licence for outdoor seating
Premises wishing to put furniture outside for the serving and / or consumption of food and drink must apply to their local authority for a permit. Each local authority has the latitude to devise their own guidelines: the only national conditions imposed by government are the provision of an area for non-smokers (to be positioned at least two metres from the smoking area) and an obligation not to obstruct the pavement or footpath (seating must be placed a minimum of 1.5m from the curb).
Most local authorities will list their requirements on their websites. As an example, Warwick District Council requires applicants to submit a detailed, aerial plan with the following information:
- you must clearly define the proposed licensed area
- you must clearly define the surrounding highway area
- you must include measurements of the highway and the boundary of the proposed area
- you must include the location of any street furniture
- you must include a reasonable amount of ‘smoke free’ space within the licensed area
Helpfully, they include schematics indicating what is, and what is not, acceptable. As well as the plan above, applicants must also provide proof of their public liability insurance, the dimensions of the tables and chairs and a photograph of them, and a photograph of the required notice of the application. Once these elements are assembled, the application process can begin.
The application process
The application fee is capped at a maximum of £100 and the whole process should not take more than 10 days (excluding public holidays) with five days for the public consultation and five days for the licensing committee to determine the application. If the application is not determined within the prescribed time, the application is automatically granted. However, if the committee turns down the applications, there is no appeals process although the applicant may be able to appeal to the relevant authority’s licensing committee. Licences can be issued for a period of three months or more but not extending beyond 30 September 2021. Under this temporary regime, planning permission is not required but applicants do need an alcohol licence to serve alcohol outside; if they already have an alcohol licence for their premises, this will also cover the outside area.
Factors to consider when applying
The obvious question to ask is whether or not the available outdoor space is large enough, will not cause an obstruction, and does not present either a security or nuisance risk. A major consideration for local authorities is the potential for a terror attack, particularly in city centres, and they will work with both the applicants and the police to identify any such risks. Applicants must also be mindful of the potential for disturbing neighbours or causing a litter nuisance; again, local authorities will consult with the police and other relevant authorities to determine the right approach. Finally, ensuring that any external seating and related social distancing queueing measures do not obstruct pedestrians, particularly those who are disabled, is critical.
What of the future for pavement licences?
Covid 19 is reshaping our high streets in more ways than one. The temporary easing of restrictions on pavement licences will give an additional, and much needed, helping hand to our local cafés, bars, restaurants and pubs. Of course, many streets have been reconfigured to accommodate social distancing and will not be suitable for external seating in the longer term when we return to normal. However, with the temporary arrangements in place, owners of hospitality venues will have time to consider if the outside space works for them and give them time to apply for an ordinary pavement licence from 1 October 2021 onwards.