We all recall the introduction of what were commonly referred to as ‘Fast Track Pavement Licences’ in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This allowed businesses in England selling food or drink to obtain authorisation from local authorities to place furniture such as tables and chairs on the highway adjacent to their premises via a much quicker and cheaper process than had previously been possible.
This temporary provision was originally scheduled to last only until 30 September 2021, before the Government extended the regime to 30 September 2022. In July this year, the Government has done the same again and extended the period during which Fast Track Pavement Licences can continue to apply up to 30 September 2023.
The boom in outdoor seating brought some much-needed relief to the hospitality industry and has, in certain areas, opened up an al fresco culture that is welcomed by consumers. However, operating with customers seated outside a licensed premises is not without its risks. It has been well publicised that in certain areas such as Soho in London, residents have complained due to noise levels and disrupted access to their properties from alfresco dining and drinking.
Although it might be argued residents were especially sensitive to noise when premises reopened after the relative peace and quiet of lockdown, disturbance from customers outside premises near residential properties will pose a very serious risk to a business and its premises licence if not managed properly.
The routes to enforcement open to residents and the local authority are well trodden, including Noise Abatement Notices, which can lead to heavy fines, and reviews of premises licences, which can result in reductions to hours, restricted and onerous conditions being added to a licence and, in the worse cases, revocation of a licence. As the land for which the pavement licence is granted is Council land, there is also a risk that the pavement licence itself may be cancelled or modified, removing a vital source of income.
A responsible operator can seek to mitigate these risks by having robust management policies in place for outside seating areas and dispersal of customers, ensuring staff are trained on how to manage customers effectively. We often see that those operators with open lines of communication and good relations with the local residents and authorities are much less likely to see formal enforcement action taken, especially in the first instance.
Where an operator works in partnership with the residents and authorities, it is much easier for issues to be discussed and solutions worked that will allow a business to successfully trade within a happy community.
Important issues are addressed
The nature of hospitality businesses means even with the best management policies in place, unforeseen circumstances and behaviour of the public that is out of the control of operators can always arise. Responsible authorities often recognise this as well – if an operator is unfortunate enough to be the subject of enforcement action then being able to show that they took prior steps to train staff and implement robust management procedures before an incident arose will stand the operator in good stead.
It is nonetheless important that issues are addressed promptly and the business should seek legal advice as soon as possible following any enforcement action.
Although the latest extension to the temporary Fast Track Pavement Licence regime will expire in September 2023, the government intends to make this permanent through the proposed Levelling Up Bill. The permanent regime will be subject to some changes, such as the application fees, the consultation period and the duration that a pavement licence may have effect.
Finally, operators should note that the new regulations covering Fast Track Pavement Licences up to September 2023 only applies to applications made on or after the 22 July 2022. Applications that were made before this date will expire on the 30 September 2022 so businesses will need to look at making new applications in good time to continue to benefit from the provisions.
- David Inzani is a solicitor at Poppleton Allen solicitors.