Legal Q&A: How to develop your outdoor space

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

Legal Q&A: How to develop your outdoor space

Related tags License

The sun is shining, your indoor bar is uncontrollably busy and the pub is full to bursting, so you’ve decided to put some tables and chairs to the front of your pub. Before you press ahead, you might need to have a chat with some authorities first. Jonathan Smith from licensing solicitors Poppleston Allen tells you how to go about it.

What are the pitfalls of using the space out the front of the pub on the public highway?

The most common problem is that licensees won’t realise that they’ll require permission from the Highways Agency. It’s got all sorts of different names, but they would have to apply for permission to put the tables and chairs out there. It’s normally an annual permission, so you have to renew it every year having had it granted in the first place.

You also require planning and a lot of authorities — especially the central London authorities — will require you to reapply for that planning every six or 12 months as well.

How long do those processes take?

Planning applications can take four to six months. A tables and chairs licence will typically take you a couple of months. The quickest you could get both through the system would be two months. Planning is like sticking your finger in the air; it’ll take at least eight weeks, but depending on how much the planning officer has got on, it could take up to six months.

What most people need to know as well is that most licensing authorities will only allow you to have your tables and chairs out until a certain time and that varies from council to council.

Councils like a plan to show where the tables and chairs will be and even stipulate what they will look like. You need permission for things like your barriers, A-boards, heaters and umbrellas. You normally put a plan in showing all these things and the council will give you approval for those tables and chairs in those [exact] positions. Some of the London authorities will come round and say: “That table is not where it should be."

Moving on to a garden that is already owned by the pub, would there be any issues with locating a temporary bar there?

You can only put a temporary bar outside if the outside area falls under the licensed area on your premises licence.

Will it usually automatically be a licensed area?

I would say the majority of cases will need an application to be lodged to have a bar there.

You can make two sorts of applications. You can either do a full variation, which is what most authorities would request, or you could do it by way of a minor variation. A minor variation would take you up to three weeks, but a full variation of the licence will take four to eight weeks.

The difference between a minor and full variation

"A minor variation won’t have to be advertised in the local paper and it’s a cheaper process. A full variation is a more formal process. You can only get away with a minor variation if you are doing something that will not impact on the licensing objectives. Now most authorities will take the view that if you stick a bar in a beer garden and you’ve got residents nearby, they may well ask for a full variation.

"If you put a minor variation in and the council takes issue with it then they could wait three weeks and say that it should be a full variation. What we would normally do is talk to the authorities and police to get their view and then lodge the application having spoken to them. I have to say that the vast majority will want a full variation; I think the only time you would get away with a minor [variation] would be if there are no residents nearby."

Is there anything else that would need to be applied for?

The only [other] thing that you would need permission for under your licence in an area that you own out the back would be for a barbecue or selling hot food after 11pm.

Once you’re good to go, should an extra risk assessment be done?

You’ve got to look at doing an extra risk assessment but if you’ve already got an outside area, you’ve probably already done that.

You must also consider any adverse impact on the residents that live nearby because if you’ve got a bar outside, it’s going to be busier outside.

If you’ve got a licence to 11pm, what’s the limit on noise that customers are making?

Some councils may only license a bar outside to 9pm or 10pm. If you’ve had problems in the past, there are quite a lot of licences that restrict the time you can have customers outside.

There is no defined level of noise. It would simply be open to the environmental health officer, who may say that it’s too noisy and serve a review of the licence. You could lose the bar, have a condition on what time people are outside until or [have to] limit the number of people outside.

What extra precautions can be taken to ensure order is being kept?

It’s very hard. Having supervision of the outside area is important. Sometimes you’ll have to say: ‘Guys can you be quiet, we’ve got neighbours over there’. [Beyond that] you can ask people to come in at a sensible time.

Some places will allow people to go outside and have a cigarette after 11pm, but can’t take their drinks outside and not have the bar open outside.

Is it worth having a member of the bar team that co-ordinates the garden?

If you’ve got a bar outside, you would have somebody there. If the bar is closed, it would be sensible to have a member of staff, who is designated to look after that area. You only need one person to shout very loudly, which you can’t stop, and everyone’s awake.

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