Thursday 25 June 2020 5:48 pm

'Al fresco Britain': Government waives planning laws for on-street drinking and dining

The government has set out details that will pave the way for an “al fresco Britain” this summer, allowing fairs, outdoor markets and on-street drinking and dining to take place without planning permission in England. 

The government has unveiled a new Business and Planning Bill, which will lift the red tape from pubs, restaurants and hotels to serve food and drink on streets and in car parks in a bid to boost the British economy. 

The Business and Planning Bill will reduce the consultation period for applications for pavement licences to from 28 calendar days to five working days, and grant consent after 10 working days.

Read more: Lockdown eased: Boris Johnson cuts two-metre rule to ‘one metre-plus’

The changes come ahead of what has been dubbed “Super Saturday” on 4 July, when pubs, cafes, theatres, cinemas and hairdressers will reopen after months of closure. 

The new bill proposes more pedestrianised areas under the direction of local councils, and will clear the way for outdoor markets, pop-up car-boot sales and summer fairs to take place without planning applications.

It will also usher in temporary changes to licensing laws to allow more premises to sell take-away alcohol, as part of plans for an “al fresco Britain” during the warm summer months. 

Local authorities will be able to set their own conditions, such as outlining the maximum number of chairs and tables, and have the right to revoke pavement licenses if outside areas are not properly cleaned up.

“Pubs, restaurants and cafes are the lifeblood of high streets and town centres across the country and we are doing all we can to ensure they can bounce back as quickly and safely as possible,” business minister Alok Sharma said. 

On Tuesday Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a broad outline of the next stage for businesses to reemerge after months of lockdown, adding that he was “eagerly awaiting” a pint and a haircut.

It comes after the government yesterday issued sector-by-sector guidance for businesses to safely reopen on 4 July.

Pubs, restaurants, hotels and places of worship will be required to keep a register of all visitors for 21 days to assist with the NHS contact tracing programme, while businesses across the hospitality sector will be forced to implement diligent cleaning schedules.

The public will now be allowed to meet outdoors in groups of up to 30 people from two different households, and stay overnight with one other household.

Councils have warned that the new guidance will carry a heavy burden for local authorities, as the combination of street drinking and large groups of people will likely result in drunk and disorderly behaviour.

Police will retain the power to break up “irresponsible” gatherings of more than 30 people, the PM’s official spokesman said yesterday.

Read more: Pubs and restaurants express relief as their lockdown ends

Johnson yesterday assured that the government is placing faith in the public not to cause “writhing scenes in the beer gardens”.

But leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg called on the public to support the reopening of pubs by drinking a “yard of ale”.

“I think there’s a very easy answer in pubs and that is people should go back to drinking a yard of ale,” said Rees-Mogg.

“Because if they drink a yard of ale they will maintain social distancing while enjoying an extra large drink to celebrate the fact that they are back in the pub.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “Al fresco pubs will be welcomed by publicans and customers alike. It will give pubs more outdoor space to serve more customers with, which will help them on their road to recovery.

“Our pubs face a 30 per cent reduction in capacity when they reopen under one metre plus social distancing guidelines, so giving them more outdoor space will be a big help.”

But many have warned that the new measures will do little to ensure long-term support for the economy.

Nicholle Kingsley, partner at Pinsent Masons, said: “While some will breathe a sigh of relief at the planning measures unveiled today, there will be many who will be disappointed.

“Put simply, the temporary and short term nature of most of these measures don’t provide enough scope for meaningful impact and recovery for businesses grappling with the economic pressures prompted by the pandemic.”

The CBI today urged the government to extend emergency measures, including the coronavirus business loans scheme, for a further three months, as the UK faces its worst recession on record.

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