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Covid-19 and the hospitality sector

The sector has been one of the hardest hit by Covid-19. Being the 3rd largest employer in the UK with approximately 3.2million workers (UK Hospitality, 2020), the closures have been dramatic. In the wake of ‘Super Saturday’ (4th July 2020) it is prudent to look at how the sector will adapt in response to the easing of lockdown restrictions and the need to maintain social distancing.

From the 4th July, pubs, restaurants and cafes in England were given the green light to open, provided they could maintain social distancing. In line with government advice, the 2m rule has been relaxed to “1m plus”, which undoubtedly has allowed more premises to resume trading. Despite some lockdown restrictions easing, strict measures remain in place and the hospitality sector are adjusting their operations to ensure compliance. Changes include limiting numbers of patrons, additional outdoor seating, increased ventilation and operational alterations. This article provides an update on the situation in England and the measures to support the hospitality sector and considers the implications from a planning perspective.

Outdoor seating

In order to maintain social distancing, premises are being encouraged to accommodate patrons outside. Previously, external tables and chairs would be subject to a licence and, when located on public highway, require planning permission. However, on the 25th June, the Government released their ‘Draft Guidance: Pavement licenses’ (outdoor seating proposal)’. This new, streamlined process will allow businesses to secure the licenses quickly and allow tables and chairs to remain in place for a year (but not beyond 30th September 2021).

In terms of process, the application fee is capped at £100 and the statutory consultation period has been reduced to 5 working days. If the Local Authority does not grant the licence in the determination period (which is 5 working days following the public consultation period) then the license is deemed to have been granted for one year. Once a license is granted, this constitutes deemed planning permission for the license holder. This removes the need to apply for specific planning permission under Part 3 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Eligible businesses include any premises for the sale of food and drink for consumption on or off the premises including pubs, cafes, bars, restaurants, coffee shops.

In making a submission, details showing the siting of tables and chairs, the operation hours, the relevant highway information (e.g. road details) as well as public liability insurance must be submitted. Whilst this provides flexibility for operators, any proposed seating must not constitute a fixed structure and must be removed at the end of each evening.

Street pedestrianisation

Whilst not currently a widespread approach, Westminster City Council launched the temporary timed pedestrianisation of a number of streets. The move will temporarily relax licensing rules for operators within Soho, Covent Garden, China Town, Marylebone and some areas of Victoria allowing them to have street tables between 11am and 11pm every day. This change, coupled with the streamlined application process for tables and chairs will have major impacts on the operation and character of much of central London.

For the duration of lockdown, Soho has been noticeably quiet. The swathes of people who normally frequent the area were absent and resident’s experienced substantial reductions in noise and disturbance levels. The re-opening of many premises will reawaken Soho from its slumber. It is noted that following ‘Super Saturday’, the changes were already becoming politically charged. Local councillors were contacted about the quantum of people flocking to Soho and the impact on the area. A delicate balance between promoting the return to normal with the need to protect amenity presents itself. Undoubtedly this will lead to long term discussions about the character of much of central London.

Further afield, pedestrianisation is proposed in Bristol, Cambridge and Manchester. In these cities, the restriction of motor vehicles will have widespread benefits including promoting more sustainable travel modes, reducing air pollution and facilitating social distancing.

Covid and Heritage

According to CAMRA, there are 53,000 public houses in England, of these, around 4,000 are statutorily listed buildings. The impact of Covid-19 on conservation and heritage is considered to be major and in response Historic England has announced a £3million ‘Heritage at Risk’ fund to support historic buildings and sites in these times.

In response to the easing of lockdown, many public houses are making changes to accommodate social distancing. Such changes include the installation of screening around bar areas and between tables as well as changes to internal layouts. Any changes to the fabric of a listed building (internal and external) which could affect its special interest requires specific listed building consent. If you are unsure whether proposed alterations will require listed building consent, Boyer will be happy to review and provide an initial view.

Historic England have also released specific guidance about cleaning historic fabric to ensure high standards of cleanliness and hygiene. The guidance provides useful advice on how best to protect historic fabric and which products and chemicals to avoid.

In summary, the changes to licensing and planning processes are welcomed and will give the sector the boost it needs in the current climate. Attention needs to be paid to ensure any proposed changes to the operation, layout or function of a premises are within the remits of the guidance and continue to support and facilitate social distancing.

Should you have any queries about any of the items raised in this article, please get in touch and we can discuss further.

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