The Business and Planning Bill 2019-21 contains temporary measures designed to help certain business sectors function in a socially distanced environment to manage the risks of Covid-19.

Social distancing

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The bill includes measures that help businesses serving food and drink – namely bars, restaurants and pubs – to seat and serve customers outdoors through temporary changes to planning procedures and alcohol licensing.

Temporary measures will make pavement licences cheaper, easier and quicker to obtain. Under the new process, the licence application fee will be capped at £100, and if the local authority doesn’t determine the application within ten working days the licence will be deemed to have been granted for a year (capped at 30 September 2021).

Once an application has been submitted to a local authority, businesses must display an easily visible time-stamped notice stating this, indicating that any representations may be made to the local authority during the public consultation period. Businesses should capture photographic evidence of displayed notices, as failure to do so could result in pavement licenses being revoked.

Once a pavement licence has been granted, the applicant will benefit from deemed planning permission to use the outdoor area for anything done pursuant to the licence while it’s in date.

The bill also seeks to provide automatic extensions to terms of on-sale alcohol licences to allow for off-sales. This will enable on-sales-licence-only premises to sell alcohol for consumption off the premises.

While this will undoubtedly be useful in assisting the hospitality industry to transform its spaces inside-out in a social distancing-compliant way, it could lead to an increase in noise nuisance and alcohol-fuelled violence. The bill includes revocation powers granting councils authority to revoke pavement licences in the event of anti-social behaviour or public nuisance. Pavement licences will also be revoked if there are risks to public health or safety, for instance if the placement of tables and chairs breaches the government’s social distancing guidance.

To ensure avoidance of pitfalls, we recommend businesses treat their outside area as an extension of their internal premises.

For example, keep tables and chairs separated enough to comply with the government’s social distancing guidance, display signs warning against antisocial behaviour and ensure noise control, particularly during late hours.

Failure to do so could result in a pavement licence being revoked, so the onus is on businesses to ensure their customers stay safe while having fun.

Ashi Patel is a partner and Jemma Lalwani is a senior associate at OC Solicitors