Patio heaters: a hot potato for the trade

Related tags Patio heaters European parliament European commission

Seven months after the smoking ban was introduced in England, pubs are bracing themselves for another prohibition. This time, the hot topic is patio...

Seven months after the smoking ban was introduced in England, pubs are bracing themselves for another prohibition.

This time, the hot topic is patio heaters - a key part of outside pub areas, crucial to keeping smokers happy and bars full.

The open-air heating debate, long popular with environmental campaigners, has again picked up a head of steam in recent weeks.

The European Parliament has voted to push ahead with efforts to bring in a ban, and two leading retailers - B&Q and Curry's - have withdrawn the heaters from their shelves.

All of this is bound to depress licensees who have been struggling since the smoking ban. But how seriously could it affect pubs? And does the environmental lobby have a point?

'Scandalously inefficient'

Liberal Democrat MEP Fiona Hall, who made the recommendation to ban the sale of the heaters as part of a wider energy report, says anything that burns fuel in the open air cannot help but be "scandalously inefficient".

"British Gas's analysis is that in the course of a year a car would produce three tonnes of CO2 and a patio heater four tonnes, so to say this isn't a significant issue is plainly wrong," she says.

But some say the licensed trade is being victimised and - in the wider scheme - patio heaters make little difference to the environment. Chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers' Associations, Tony Payne, says: "We can't understand why they would even consider banning them.

"What they really ought to be doing is concentrating on the major players, and not people with small patio heaters.

"The move is definitely over the top. We are talking about a minor situation here. And there is hot air coming out of a lot of other places."

Calor, the UK's leading supplier of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), commonly used in outdoor heaters, backs Payne's comments. LPG accounts for just 0.002 per cent of the nation's CO2 emissions, it says - a far less serious culprit than, say, plasma TVs.

Not set in stone

But unwelcome as a ban may be to the industry, nothing is yet set in stone - as Punch Taverns chief executive Giles Thorley points out. "It's ironic that this comes at a time when we've all invested heavily in slightly heated areas after the government banned smoking. But it's a long way from legislation."

While MEPs have voted to endorse Hall's proposals, the ban is still at discussion stage. The debate will now move to the European Commission, where the priority is previously agreed environmental commitments.

And, crucially for licensees, it is likely that the ban would apply to the future sale of heaters rather than possession of them.

"We are talking about taking patio heaters off the market," says Hall. "It would have no effect on people who have them already."

Related topics Property law

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