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By Michael Brown

Senior Staff Writer

5 June 2020

| | 5 min read

Employment

Council outlines support to help pubs, cafes and restaurants reopen safely

Pubs, cafes and restaurants may be able to spread out onto the streets as Newcastle City Council looks to supports licensees to re-open safely.

A coffee cup on an outside table with the text "Support for pubs, cafes and restaurants to reopen"

Social distancing, which requires people to remain two metres apart, presents a particular problem for the hospitality trade, whose premises may be small or not designed to keep customers away from each other.

Government guidance is awaited but following positive discussions with licensees and business owners the council will look to put interim measures in place to help businesses change how they operate once they are allowed to recommence trading.

The authority is also set to lobby ministers so that firms, while ensuring safety is paramount, can make the most of outside spaces.

'We are receptive to the concerns of the trade'

Cllr Nick Kemp, cabinet member for environment and regulatory services, said: “Newcastle is rightly renowned for its excellent hospitality but those businesses, which provide jobs and a sense of community for so many, are among those who will have the hardest time adapting to the ‘new normal’.

“We are receptive to the concerns of the trade and are working with publicans, restaurateurs and café owners to look at how we can support them, through our licensing process, to have the best chance of continued success.

“Of course any changes must be balanced against the needs of residents in the city, but we will look to make applying for license variations, to offer things like a takeaway service, create outside pavement-café style seating areas, or change the layout of premises, easier and cheaper.

“However, we need Government to play its part, relaxing regulations on things like planning, licensing and the late night levy to allow businesses to find the solutions they need.

“We’ll be lobbying ministers to that end and hope to see Newcastle once again becoming the vibrant place we all love.”

Working with businesses

Throughout the lockdown closure period the council, as licensing authority, has maintained an open dialogue with the trade and is amenable to proposals to try and swiftly re-establish day-to-day business. 

As part of that on-going engagement the authority, with Northumbria Police, is looking to adopt a practical and supportive approach when considering applications from those wishing to change or diversify their activities or how they operate.

This includes offering advice in order to simplify the application process and in turn minimising costs, reducing the burden and expediting the licensing process.

'A city that works for everyone'

Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet member for Employment and Culture, said: “Businesses across the city have recently experienced the toughest few months they are likely to ever face.

“But as our city takes its first steps to recovery it is vital that the council and our partners work closely with them through what will be a difficult journey and support them in every way possible.

“Our city is resilient and ambitious, and we know businesses are determined to succeed.

“We will continue our discussions with government to enable us to deliver a city that works for everyone; one where businesses can thrive and provide local people with jobs, and one where everyone will benefit from a re-invigorated economy.”

Pavement cafes

Discussions with regards specific ideas put forward for individual sites continue and, should those plans progress, residents and neighbouring business will have opportunity to comment and raise any concerns.

As well as licensing, new pavement cafes require planning consent, which can take on average eight weeks, and permission from the council’s highways department – which would consider any application alongside efforts to create more space for walking and cycling.

Despite Government changes to the permitted development regime to allow pubs and restaurants to offer hot food takeaways, there have been no changes to the planning legislation – something the council is now asking for.

Late Night Levy

Council leader Nick Forbes has also written to ministers asking for greater flexibility around late night levy fees, which are set centrally in Westminster.

The annual charge of between £299 and £4,440 is imposed on 240 licensed premises across the city, raising around £350,000 a year which is spent by the council and the Northumbria police and crime commissioner on reducing crime, disorder and the impact of the night-time economy.

But currently the authority does not have the ability to set how much the fees are and doesn’t have any discretion to waive or alter them, despite the challenges the industry faces. 

Find out more

For information about licencing in Newcastle please visit https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/services/licences-and-permits