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Wake-up call: What are the rules around opening outside?

11 June 2020
Wake-up call: What are the rules around opening outside?

As businesses find ways to use outside spaces, there are numerous questions: can people drink in the street? Is permission needed for extra tables and chairs? Ewen Macgregor looks at the possibilities

The problem

I've read that the hospitality sector might be allowed to start using outdoor spaces to serve food and drinks soon. Is that true, and how can I make sure I'm doing this legally?

The law

On 29 May, the environment secretary George Eustice announced that the government "won't be loosening the restrictions on [the hospitality sector] until at least July, and even then it is likely that in the case of pubs and restaurants it will begin with beer gardens and outdoor areas only".

In addition to this, local government minister Robert Jenrick confirmed he is considering a "blanket permission" for restaurants and cafés to use squares or pedestrianised streets for chairs and tables.

It is therefore critical that operators look to make optimum use of any outdoor space they have access to, be that a garden, car park or placing tables and chairs on a public highway outside their premises. Operators will be keen to maximise capacity while reducing the density of customers to ensure that social distancing guidelines can be observed.

Expert advice

The recent announcement presents a great opportunity to take advantage of the first relaxation of restrictions for the sector. The need to act quickly – and creatively – is perhaps greater than ever. In the absence of a blanket permission, there is unsurprisingly no generic approach to what one can do in response to the proposals among local authorities. What we have found, however, across numerous conference calls, is a willingness and "can-do" attitude from authorities to help operators in whatever way they can.

We have found a willingness and ‘can-do' attitude from authorities to help operators in whatever way they can

To-do checklist

While the guidelines for reopening are not yet known, based on what rules we have seen published on takeaways and green spaces, we would advise operators to focus on the following:

  • What areas does the ‘red line' in your premises licence cover?
  • Is there an opportunity to extend into a beer garden or car park?
  • Does your premises have a tables and chairs licence? If so, what is the scope (areas covered and numbers of tables and chairs permitted) and is there any opportunity to extend this?
  • If you do not have a tables and chairs permission, is there an opportunity to place tables and chairs on a public highway adjacent to, or at the front of your premises?

There is no universal approach, so check the local position. Once you have identified areas where your premises can be expanded, engage with the local authority – in particular licensing as well as planning and environmental health teams. Speak to any nearby residents that you think may be affected by your proposals, and what you plan do to.

Time is short and early engagement and support from the authorities (and your neighbours) will be vital to smooth the path for any proposals you may have, and avoid or limit any objections.

The authorities will most likely be keen to know how you propose to comply with any social distancing and broader Covid-19 compliance guidelines. Risk assessments should consider, at the very least:

  • Spacing of tables and chairs.
  • Pre-booking tables with limited times.
  • Remote ordering of food and drink.
  • Table service.
  • One-way systems for customers and staff indoors.
  • Careful management of toilet facilities.
  • Increased cleansing of all customer and staff areas.

Beware

Given the ongoing sensitivities around the spread of Covid-19, all enforcement authorities will be keen to ensure that once the sector starts to open up there is strict compliance with the law and ancillary guidance. They will not look kindly on anyone who is in breach.

While there are a number of possible repercussions from non-compliance (enforcement notices, community penalty notices, licence review), these may result in significant fines or the suspension or loss of your premises licence.

Get this right now, and you will be well-placed to take full advantage of the first – and no doubt very welcome – relaxations in the sector.

Contact

Ewen Macgregor is a partner at TLT Solicitors

Ewen.Macgregor@TLTsolicitors.com

Photo credit: Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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