Secretary of State calls on councils to show pragmatism, avoid “overzealous interpretations” of rules on outdoor hospitality

The Communities Secretary has called on councils to ensure that that government guidance on outdoor structures is applied proportionately and consistently, to support businesses in their areas to reopen safely and to avoid overzealous interpretations of the rules.

In a letter to chief executives and Leaders of local authorities in England entitled Reopening outdoor hospitality safely, sent after the entry into Step 2 of the roadmap on 12 April, Robert Jenrick highlighted how – to support hospitality businesses such as pubs, cafes and restaurants to reopen safely – the government had legislated to enable them to set up outdoor shelters and marquees without planning permissions.

“We have published clear guidance on GOV.UK for how these structures can be set up safely and what conditions they need to meet to be considered ‘outdoors’. For instance – in line with the existing rules for outdoor smoking areas – shelters, marquees and other structures erected by hospitality and other businesses can have a roof, but need to have at least half of the area of their walls open at all times whilst in use,” the Secretary of State said.

Calling for proportionate application of government guidance, he added: “It is in the public interest that local residents can socialise in a licensed and controlled environment outside, where Covid-19 risks are lower. If a disproportionate regulatory approach is taken, it risks driving residents into unregulated activity and premises which may be far less covid-secure and/or illegal.”

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Jenrick noted that on 16 April, the government would extend these rights to listed buildings and historic visitor attractions to support these businesses to reopen safely. “Listed buildings will be able to benefit from the right where the temporary structure would not affect the character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. The measure will be in force until 1 January 2022 and the temporary structure may be in place during the whole of this period.”

The Local Government Secretary also noted that the number of businesses making use of provisions allowing for fast track pavement licences, introduced in the Business and Planning Act, varied drastically across the country and called on local authorities to redouble their efforts to promote the use of these provisions with their local hospitality businesses.

Jenrick concluded: “Cutting red tape in this way is a lifeline for businesses as they look to bounce back from a uniquely challenging year. We need your support to ensure the measures are known, made use of and not impeded unnecessarily – jobs and enterprises depend on it. I would urge you to show pragmatism and proportionality at all times, doing everything you can to help businesses prosper again.”

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