Plans revealed for coronavirus-inspired summer al fresco revolution

Ministers have announced legislation making it easier for pubs and restaurants to use outside areas for eating and drinking.

Outdoor eating
Outdoor eating

Ministers have revealed their plans for an al fresco revolution to encourage open air shopping and drinking throughout the summer to control coronavirus.

Outside seating and takeaway pints will become the norm under proposals laid out in the Business and Planning Bill, which has been dubbed the Covid Bill by officials.

Publicans and restaurant owners will be allowed to turn car parks into seating areas, with the “immediate” changes allowing the hospitality industry to exploit the hot weather being enjoyed across England and Wales in a bid to bounce back from the coronavirus downturn.

As part of the plans unveiled on Thursday, licensed premises will be able to serve booze for punters to take away and consume elsewhere in efforts to stop drinkers crowding indoors.

Meanwhile, outdoor markets, summer fairs and car boot sales will no longer need planning permission, meaning their hours can be extended without prior approval.

Scientists have found that Covid-19 does not spread as easily in an outside environment compared to when indoors, meaning an outdoor lifestyle could help keep the infection rate under control when lockdown measures are significantly eased on July 4.

The Prime Minister has given the go-ahead for pubs, restaurants and hotels to reopen as of next month – albeit with social distancing restrictions in place – while non-essential retail is already free to resume selling.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “Our 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.

“This week we gave our vital hospitality sector the green light to reopen from July 4, and today we are introducing new legislation to enable businesses to make the most of the crucial summer months ahead.”

Changes for the hospitality industry in the Covid Bill include reducing the consultation period for applications for pavement licences from 28 calendar days to five working days, with automatic consent granted if there is no council decision after 10 working days.

Pints outside
The Covid Bill will allow licensed premises to temporarily serve takeaway pints (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The application fee for a pavement and street cafe licence will be lowered to no more than £100 and temporary changes to licensing laws will allow licensed premises, such as pubs and restaurants, to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.

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% reduction in capacity when they reopen under ‘one metre-plus’ social-distancing guidelines, so giving them more outdoor space will be a big help.”

Coronavirus Sharma
Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced the plans for more outdoor eating and drinking on Thursday (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Government said councils will need to continue to ensure communities are consulted on licensing applications, that waste is disposed of responsibly, and that access to pavements and pedestrianised areas is not compromised as a result of the changes.

Councillor David Renard, the Local Government Association’s economy spokesman, said: “Councils need to be able to refuse requests where these cannot be managed safely and to be able to take action if any issues arise following reopening.

“The relaxation of these rules will require individual business owners, trade groups and the police to work together alongside responsible behaviour by customers.

“The full responsibility, and cost, for making this work successfully does not sit with local authorities alone.”

The Covid Bill was laid before Parliament on Thursday and will be debated by MPs on Monday, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed.

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