‘Pavement cafés’ from Covid’s social distancing era to continue in South Ribble for another year

Bars and eateries in South Ribble that were granted temporary licences allowing them to put chairs and tables on the pavement outside their premises in order to comply with social distancing guidelines will be able to apply to keep them in place for another year.
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While Covid regulations protecting personal space have long since been dismantled, the government has repeatedly extended a legacy of the early part of the pandemic which enabled local authorities to grant fast-track permissions to food and drink premises that meant they could expand seating areas into the public spaces beyond their front doors.

The latest extension means that the licences should be renewed, upon request, until the end of September 2024 – and South Ribble Borough Council’s licensing and public safety committee has recommended that the authority continues with its current system for implementing the national policy.

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A meeting of the committee was told that around half a dozen businesses in the district had taken advantage of the simplified process since it was introduced in the summer of 2020, just as the country emerged from the first lockdown and tried to facilitate ways of gathering and socialising as safely as possible.

The authority’s licensing manager, Chris Ward, said that none of the pavement facilities had since attracted any complaints about “crime or disorder”.

Middleforth ward member Keith Martin told the committee that he would like to see the scheme continue “indefinitely”, so as not to disadvantage those businesses in places like Penwortham and Leyland that did not have private areas in front of their properties. Such spaces can be used for external seating without a pavement licence.

However, he also questioned whether fire safety considerations had been taken into account – specifically, the need to ensure that exits from premises were clear from clutter in the event of an evacuation. Mr. Ward said that “safe passages” of three metres were factored in to applications for pavement café licences.

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While the national regulations mean that councils are obliged to offer the fast-track application process for as long as the government decides to extend it, they do have flexibility over how much they charge any businesses wanting to apply. The committee recommended that the full council approves a continuation of the £100 annual fee for the service - which has been charged since 2020 – at its next meeting.