Pavement licensing red tape is to be permanently scrapped, freeing up businesses to serve food alfresco all year round.
During the pandemic, restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary powers to serve guests on pavements, helping to mitigate lost floor space for tables due to social distancing requirements.
Through new legislation, these powers are expected to be made permanent, with the announcement anticipated as part of the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill unveiled in the Queen's speech this week. Today's (Tuesday's) Queen Speech also unveiled plans to ease planning rules and bring unused commercial properties back into use.
Hospitality businesses in London's Soho have been lobbying for alfresco dining to be made permanent since Covid restrictions started to ease in the summer of 2020.
Westminster Council had been praised for the launch of the alfresco initiative in August 2020 and its reintroduction in April 2021, with many pubs and restaurants crediting the scheme with their survival.
Ruben Maza, co-founder of Lobos Meat & Tacos in Soho, said the permanent scrapping of red tape would be "fantastic news". He said: "Alfresco and the closure of roads not only revived hospitality businesses, but it [also] dramatically increases the footfall of every other kind of business in the area. I'm sure that there is a significant number of businesses that will welcome this news, and I welcome it as well."
Vas Ahmed, manager at Gardenia restaurant in Cambridge, who introduced outdoor seating during the pandemic, said: "We'd like to keep our tables because it obviously gives us revenue. [Outdoor seating] absolutely makes a big difference."
Meanwhile, Henal Chotai, owner of the Red Cup Café in Harrow, said: "About time. If you need to make towns more vibrant, hospitality is key."
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, added: "Making pavement licences permanent is a really positive move. They were vital during the pandemic, enabling businesses to trade, when they would otherwise be forced to close or restrict their opening hours. These outdoor spaces also benefit town and city centres, enabling them to enjoy the sort of outdoor experiences available elsewhere, and helping local economies recover faster, contributing to levelling up.
"Pavement licences also revealed the hospitality industry's ingenuity and creativity, and significant levels of investment which will now continue to return value. That same innovation must also ensure that this opportunity for venues pays due regard to accessibility, so that all customers can benefit."
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