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The Business and Planning Bill: An outside chance for the hospitality sector?

02/07/2020

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United Kingdom

Legislation designed to make it easier for pubs, restaurants and markets to operate 'al fresco' promises to boost businesses paralysed by Covid-19 infection controls, but operators need to be mindful of their obligations under the new rules.
 
  The first reading of the Business and Planning Bill 2019-21, a new law intended to implement changes to the way hospitality businesses apply for pavement licences and measures to relax rules regulating outdoor markets, took place on 30 June.
 
The second reading, which involves a general debate on all aspects of the bill, takes place on 6 July.
 
If passed, as it is assumed they will be with minimal amendments, these changes will come as a welcome boost to the hospitality industry which, with the exception of those offering takeaway/delivery, has been completely shuttered since the imposition of the Covid-19 lockdown on 23 March.
 
The most significant changes in the bill relate to pavement licences, which have traditionally been restricted in the UK, and planning rules that dictate when and where outdoor markets can take place.
 
Temporary pavement licences
 
If passed, under temporary laws, pubs and restaurants will be able to apply for pavement licences more easily, as the government intends to introduce a 'streamlined' and 'cheaper' route for businesses to secure licences to place furniture on the highway.
 
Under the draft guidance released by the government on 25 June, the consultation period for applications for pavement licences will reduce from 28 working days to five working days, with automatic consent granted if there is no council decision after 10 working days.
 
The application fee will also be capped at £100 to ensure licences are accessible to smaller businesses.
 
The duration of the lease is subject to the council's discretion, provided it lasts a minimum of three months. However, there is an expectation that the council will grant pavement licences for 12 months or more, unless there are good reasons for not doing so.  
 
Once a business has obtained a licence, there will be no requirement to apply for planning permission alongside it. Businesses will be able to use the land for any purpose pursuant to the licence once it has been granted.
 
Although it is uncertain how long the UK population will be subject to social distancing measures, under the draft guidance, the new process for temporary pavement licences will remain in place until September 2021.
 
These measures will give businesses confidence that they can operate restaurants and pubs in a safe environment, while getting back on their feet and making the most of the summer months.
 
Relaxing planning rules
 
The bill also touches upon the government's plans to ease planning rules regulating outdoor markets.
 
Councils will no longer require planning permission to set up new markets, making the operation of outdoor markets more appealing, with the potential to transform the way people shop.
 
This relaxation of the rules is furthered under the draft guidance by the introduction of laws that will grant operators greater freedom to choose how to use their land by allowing temporary structures to remain in place for longer, without needing to apply for planning permission.
 
The time limit will double from 14 to 28 days for holding a market or a motorcar event, and up to 56 days for any other purpose. This will make it easier to host markets, car boot sales and summer fairs throughout the remainder of 2020.
 
Potential challenges
 
While the bill's proposals have so far been widely welcomed by the hospitality and retail sectors, the changes have also prompted some concerns from the public and community action groups.
 
Permitting businesses to provide outdoor service until the terminal hour (closing time) of each premises has provoked fears from residents' groups about an increase in late night noise and potential anti-social behaviour.
 
Public health experts have also warned about the possible difficulties of enforcing social distancing and other infection control measures at pubs and restaurants once patrons have had a few drinks.
 
The need to ensure that pavements and highways where food and drink is sold, or market stalls stand, remain clean has likewise been raised. Al fresco eating and drinking may also make pavements harder for elderly or disabled people to navigate.
 
Although these concerns are not expected to scupper the passage of the bill, anyone looking to take advantage of the relaxed rules should be mindful of these fears and take appropriate measures to minimise unintended negative consequences and engage with local community groups and residents.
 
For further information on the details of the government's draft guidance or advice on how it may affect your business, please get in touch with Dinah Patel, Sue Simpson or Abbie Griffiths
 

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