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UK government relaxes rules on outdoor drinking

More bars and pubs will be allowed to sell alcohol outdoors after the UK government introduced temporary changes to licensing laws.

Bars in England will be able to use car parks and terraces as dining and drinking areas

On Tuesday (23 June), UK prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed bars, pubs and restaurants in England can reopen, both indoors and outdoors, from 4 July. This will coincide with a relaxation of the two-metre rule to one-metre-plus – although two metres will still be the recommended distance where possible. The hospitality industry in the UK has been closed since 20 March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The government said the new Business and Planning Bill will “simplify and reduce the costs of the licencing process for outdoor seating and stalls, making it easier for people to safely drink and dine outside”.

It will also enable physical distancing measures to be followed more easily, the government said.

Pubs, bars and restaurants will also be able to use car parks and terraces as dining and drinking areas under their existing seating licences.

As part of the changes, the government has reduced the consultation period for applications for pavement licences from 28 calendar days to five working days. If the local council does not issue a decision within 10 working days, the application will receive automatic approval.

In addition, a lower application fee has been set for a pavement and street café licence of up to £100 (US$124), and a planning application is no longer needed for outdoor markets and marquees.

Communities secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “I know we all look forward to seeing our pubs, cafes and restaurants open their doors again and I’m determined to give them a helping hand to get back on their feet and their staff back to work safely.

“That’s why we are introducing changes to make it quicker, easier and cheaper for them to set up outdoor seating and street stalls to serve food and drink.”

The new rules on selling alcohol for consumption off-site do not apply to those who have had permission for this denied or taken away in the last three years.

The alcohol provisions apply to England and Wales, while the other measures apply to England only.

‘Vital lifesaver’

Trade group UK Hospitality welcomed the new guidelines, which it believes will provide a “valuable boost” to the hospitality sector during the Covid-19 crisis.

The trade body’s chief executive, Kate Nicholls, said: “Businesses will need all the help they can get to return to healthy trading and protecting jobs, so simplifying the licensing process and reducing red tape will be a great help.

“Opening up outdoor spaces for venues could be a vital lifesaver and mean the difference between a successful reopening or business failures and job losses.

“The devil will be in the detail, so it is important that we get some clear guidance to ensure consistency of implementation across local authorities nationwide. These need to ensure minimal cost and notification rather than application.

“It has been encouraging to see some local authorities already considering how they can facilitate this. We hope that local authorities will jump at this chance to provide more space for venues as it will be hugely valuable in keeping businesses going and saving as many jobs as possible.”

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