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Dublin: 13 °C Sunday 12 July, 2020
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Council told to 'cop on' over plans to reduce outdoor seating for pubs and restaurants

Dublin City Council says it is reviewing rules in relation to outdoor seating due to social distancing guidelines.

Dublin City Council says it is reviewing rules in relation to outdoor seating due to social distancing guidelines.
Dublin City Council says it is reviewing rules in relation to outdoor seating due to social distancing guidelines.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

DUBLIN CITY COUNCIL needs to “cop on” and “think outside the box” according to the chief executive of the Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) after it emerged that the local authority could be set to reduce the number of seats allowed outside premises.

Under the government’s roadmap to lifting the Covid-19 restrictions, restaurants are set to open on 29 June and pubs are due to reopen for business on 10 August.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys has said the plan could be accelerated and urged businesses to begin planning for reopening under the social distancing rules, as set out in a recent guide.

Due to social distancing rules, restaurants and pubs will have to significantly modify their premises to ensure adequate space for social distancing. The minister has stated that businesses should use whatever outdoor space they might have in order to increase capacity they might lose as a result.

TheJournal.ie asked Dublin City Council if it was open to waiving fees associated with cafés, restaurants, hotels or bars who have to apply to put tables and chairs outside their premises.

The council was also asked if it would work with businesses, such as pubs, that might be looking to open up more outdoor areas given the restrictions. 

The council said it is “actively considering and assessing options” for assisting businesses under the Covid-19 restrictions.

It said applications for street furniture licences are regulated by Section 254 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and currently there are approximately 180 licences for street furniture throughout the city.

Reduce existing seating

However, the council said that the number of seats permitted outside is set to fall, not rise.

“These licences will probably have to be reviewed to reduce existing seating to comply with social distancing requirements both within the licensed area and also in the context of footpath widths to provide for pedestrian social distancing requirements.

“Currently a minimum 1.8 to 2-metre free footpath space is required outside the licensed area. This may have to be reviewed and the issues regarding street furniture are currently being assessed with a survey of footpath widths throughout the city currently underway,” the council statement said. 

Reacting to the council’s comments, Adrian Cummins, Chief Executive of the RAI, said social distancing regulations and adherence were not a matter for the council, rather for the Health Service Executive, the Health and Safety Authority and the gardaí.

The council’s plans to review the seating rules “muddies the waters”, said Cummins. 

Instead, the council should “use a bit of cop on and think outside the box and start facilitating businesses so we can get businesses up and running again” he said. 

Highlighting the case of Italy, which was one of the epicentres for the virus, Cummins said their social distancing rules set out that one metre apart is sufficient, while it is two metres here. Reducing it to one metre would make a difference for businesses, he said.

“Everybody must be in this together but from what I can see here, Dublin City Council aren’t in this together with the entire country,” said Cummins. 

Plazas

He said in other countries areas known as dining plazas are in operation, whereby tables and chairs are placed outside in open spaces near restaurants and bars.

Where possible, areas like this should be considered in Dublin, said Cummins, stating he welcomed plans to pedestrianise areas like College Green and other spaces around the city. 

On the issue of outdoor seating restrictions, Cummins said he thought Dublin City Council would be more “forward-thinking” and called on the local authority to engage with restaurants, cafes and pubs about how to retain and create jobs in the city. 

Cummins said the hospitality sector needs to get bespoke sectoral supports, not just from the incoming government, but now. He said there will be a “tsunami of closures if we don’t get this right”. 

The issue around social distancing is serious and owners need to be able to operate viable businesses throughout the crisis, he said.

Restaurants will adhere to the rules, but he added that “no one seems to be allowed have a grown economic conversation” alongside that of public health.

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Pubs

It is not just restaurants that have taken issue with the possible reduction in outdoor seating.

Donall O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of the Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), said publicans recognise that social distancing rules will have to apply to outdoor areas too, and will reduce the capacity of those areas.

“We would expect that our street furniture licence costs will fall to reflect the lower number of tables/chairs,” said O’Keeffe, who also called for additional space to be provided to businesses.

“The more important point is that the council should permit extra additional space to be used for street furniture e.g. on pedestrianised streets and other public spaces, to provide additional seated capacity while also facilitating the safe passage of pedestrians.

“Balancing pedestrian access with the ability of a business to generate turnover while adding to the ambiance of the city is a winner for all concerned.”

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Fianna Fáil’s Spokesperson for Transport Tourism and Sport Marc MacSharry said the position taken by the council to reduce outdoor seating “sounds very much like a pre-Covid-19 policy and clearly must be revised in terms of the current situation”. 

He said licensing fees for the outdoor furniture and seating should be waived by councils, stating that restaurants and bars should be permitted to use whatever outdoor space they have to the front and rear of their premises. 

MacSharry said it needs only to be temporary policy, stating that in the summer months, weather permitting, it would give businesses the additional capacity needed to increase the number of customers. 

The Sligo TD added that the government’s plan for the hospitality sector is “not fit for purpose”.

He also argued that consideration should be given to lift restrictions in towns and villages where there are no or very few Covid-19 cases. A small number of pilot schemes around the country should be launched, he said.

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