Alfresco dining in Chester continues into the New Year as the city centre roads remain closed until 8pm and Alfresco licences are free until autumn 2021.
The pedestrian areas in Chester on Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Bridge Street and Watergate Street were extended until 8pm during the summer to provide a car free space for businesses. Following conversations with businesses and residents the later reopening of the streets to vehicles will now continue until the end of March 2021.
Social distancing has reduced the capacity of many bars and restaurants, additional tables and chairs outdoors have provided more space to cater for customers.
As businesses re-opened in July, Cheshire West and Chester Council temporarily removed the charges for businesses to apply for an Alfresco licence. Supporting businesses, the Council also simplified the process for applying for the licence resulting in 51 live licenses.
The Business and Planning Bill on 22 July 2020 introduced new conditions for licences, to take effect from 1 October 2020, including a new maximum charge of £100 for Alfresco dining and a new condition stating that a smoke free area must be provided.
However, the Council has decided to waive the fees and continue to offer the licence free of charge until 30 September 2021, with a review to take place in Summer 2021. A permanent condition of the licence will be to provide a smoke free area within the Alfresco dining area.
The Council’s guidance previously requested that barriers around Alfresco dining areas were implemented where possible. In accordance with the Business and Planning Bill, Alfresco dining areas must have regard to the needs of disabled people. Barriers are necessary for those who are blind or partially sighted, it is therefore a condition of the licence to provide suitable barriers around Alfresco dining areas.
The changes will help to protect public health without imposing additional burden on businesses at a time when they need as much support as possible.
Businesses can already make their own non-smoking policies for outside space without the need for regulations. The smoke free seating condition required in the Act is a condition that, “where the furniture to be put on the relevant highway consists of seating for use by persons for the purpose of consuming food or drink, the licence-holder must make reasonable provision for seating where smoking is not permitted”.
Further guidance suggests:
- Clear ‘no smoking’ signage displayed in designated areas.
- No ash trays or similar receptacles to be provided or permitted to be left on furniture where a smoke-free seating is identified.
- Licence holders should aim for a minimum 2 metre distance between non-smoking and smoking areas, wherever possible.
Councillor Karen Shore Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environment, Highways and Strategic Transport said: “The Council introduced a simplified on-line application process for Alfresco dining in June to support businesses in the recovery from COVID-19. We removed all charges for Alfresco dining licences, and we agreed to review again following the new Business and Planning Bill for licences issued from 1 October 2020.
“The decision has been taken to waive the Government’s £100 charge and continue to offer free Alfresco licences until next autumn, whilst businesses still need to use as much space as possible to allow for social distancing.”
For businesses offering Alfresco during the winter the use of canopies, gazebos or awnings can be used, they should be either black or white in colour. Small signs on the canopies are permitted. Any structures must be temporary and taken in overnight.
Infrared heaters can be used as long as they have been safety tested and there is a risk assessment, however for safety reasons gas heaters are not allowed. Blankets are allowed subject to appropriate COVID-19 risk assessments.