The government has outlined plans to slash red tape and promote alfresco dining on pavements in a bill presented in parliament by business secretary Alok Sharma.
Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme this morning, minister for business and industry Nadhim Zahawi said the Business and Planning bill would include giving "alfresco dining more space on pavements" by easing planning laws.
He said the bill was a step towards exploring what fiscal and non-fiscal stimulus could be injected into the economy and to encourage its post-pandemic recovery to be "as dynamic as we can make it".
Asked whether pubs would be able to use their car parks as terraces and dining areas for guests, Zahawi said that they wanted to "make sure we open up as much space as possible" adding that "every bit counts here".
Jack Spiegler, a partner, at Thomas & Thomas Partners LLP, told The Caterer the proposed bill was "potentially very good news for operators and alfresco dining". He said that the "new umbrella legislation", once approved in parliament, would offer a "new fast-track external seating consent" which would automatically be granted if local authorities failed to decline applications within 14 days.
He anticipated local authorities would be "swamped" with applications and, by way of speeding up the process, encouraged operators to consider arranging a risk assessment, public liability and drawings in the meantime.
The bill's modification of premises licences to authorise off-sales in non-sealed containers for a limited period is a "fairly radical" change to existing legislation, he added.
Regarding the timing of the bill he said: "My only concern if it's not passed into law quickly and local authorities don't implement quickly, operators might miss most of the summer."
The proposed bill comes after local authorities across the country have been looking to reinstate and relax outdoor licences, including in Liverpool where a business grant scheme has been introduced to encourage restaurant operators to make use of outside space.
In addition to local councils, independent lobby group #UKGrandOutdoorCafe campaign is pushing to transform public spaces and streets for alfresco dining across the UK this summer and has attracted support from scores of industry leaders.
UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls welcomed the presentation of the bill this morning. She said: "Businesses will need all the help they can get to return to healthy trading and protecting jobs, so simplifying the licensing process and reducing red tape will be a great help. Opening up outdoor spaces for venues could be a vital lifesaver and mean the difference between a successful reopening or business failures and job losses.
"The devil will be in the detail, so it is important that we get some clear guidance to ensure consistency of implementation across local authorities nationwide. These need to ensure minimal cost and notification rather than application.
"It has been encouraging to see some local authorities already considering how they can facilitate this. We hope that local authorities will jump at this chance to provide more space for venues as it will be hugely valuable in keeping businesses going and saving as many jobs as possible."