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Thu 11th Mar 2021 - Legal Briefing

Requirements and opportunities – hospitality’s homecoming by Michelle Hazelwood

Hospitality has received plenty of uplifting news over the past few weeks to offset against some of the recent disappointments. The Budget has presented us with the finance package that will see us out of lockdown and, we hope, to return to almost normal trading by the school holidays. The first landmark date is 12 April when sports and leisure facilities can reopen indoors while hospitality (cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and social clubs) is restricted to outdoor service only. While this feels somewhat unfair, the British public has made it clear they will be more than happy to battle April showers just for a taste of freedom and a good pint.

There remains a level of unjustified and perverse attitude towards hospitality compared with other forms of recreation. Whether we can still be provided with any evidence to support the decided route forward is another question entirely. However, the government’s decision to drop some obsolete rules for operation has been welcomed. We can be confident this roadmap out is pretty much set-in-stone with some flexibility concerning the timings. It is important to prepare and look forward to the near future rather than dwelling on the previous issues.

The guidance for 12 April clarifies that any premises serving alcohol to consume on-site will require customers to order, be served and socialise while seated. They will still be able to use toilets located inside. Additionally, the reintroduction of the rule of six will occur at the earliest from 29 March. This has also been adapted to allow members of up to two households to meet on the premises even if these groups extend beyond six people. The one metre-plus rule will still apply as will the Track and Trace regulations, which mean the continued display of QR codes upon arrival.

We are optimistic Track and Trace data will continue to illustrate hospitality venues do not act as super spreaders as previously evidenced in the UK Hospitality Survey findings. During the Eat Out To Help Out campaign, the businesses that were surveyed confirmed they were only notified of 780 cases from 250 million guests, providing a notification rate of 0.0003% of all customer visits.

The British public is aching to return to the pub, dine out and celebrate. Unfortunately, only 43% of premises have an external area and on the high street, this figure is even lower at 25%. Those businesses that do have outside space will need to carefully consider their reopening and strategies to cope with the onslaught of crowds. There is a huge potential for these venues to be overwhelmed, especially if we see spells of good weather.

Reviewing the outside facilities available and looking into whether expansions could be considered may be the winning ticket for some businesses. In order to do this, the terms of the premises licence need to be reflected on, particularly external licensed areas. There may be adverse conditions on the licence such as outside area curfew times and restrictions on the type of glassware. Learning from last year’s experiences, we would also recommend that premises review their licensing conditions in relation to the provision of CCTV. External coverage may be required when you enlarge the external space, so it is definitely an important factor on your to-do list. 

Both premises with and without current outside zones can reassess the Business and Planning Act 2020, which was issued in July of last year. The legislation brought in two valuable amendments to the law.

The first benefit is the provision of off-sales to premises that are already conducting on-sales services. The suspension of conditions that prohibit the use of off-sales has been lifted across the industry, allowing the public to enjoy their drinks elsewhere, which would prove useful if the beer garden is often full.

The second is in relation to the expedited pavement licence application, which allows some businesses with wider pavements to take advantage of that public space. Earlier this month (March), we saw Westminster confirm the continuation of its alfresco scheme and some proactive councils wrote to operators reminding them of the availability of the fast-track process. During the weekend, further good news came when communities secretary Robert Jenrick confirmed the extension of the legislation’s revision until the end of September 2022. Writing in the Sun on Sunday, he said: “I’m determined we don’t let red tape get in the way of a great British summer. The planning changes we put in place last year have been a lifeline to many businesses and they’re here to stay for the summer of 2021. I’ve told council leaders we expect them to grant these licences very swiftly – with no need for businesses to reapply or charge another fee. If the council doesn’t get back to you, there’s a presumption it’s OK to proceed.”

This act delivers additional benefits, including providing businesses with areas to conduct off-sales in a more accessible way. Furthermore, it means outdoor events such as summer fairs and the assembly of marquees can go ahead without the need for a planning application. The temporary use of this land without the requirement for a change of use application has now increased to 56 days until March 2022. 

Of course, the industry is ecstatic with the adjustments made for upcoming trade but let us spare a thought for those premises that are not adjacent to local authority land and have no beer garden or outside dining. The pavement licence legislation cannot grant permission over land owned by third parties. We would encourage anyone thinking about expanding or creating an external area to try to identify ownership sooner rather than later. Work may need to be undertaken to see if short-term arrangements can be agreed. It is an exciting few weeks ahead and we hope as many businesses as possible are able to take advantage of the relaxation of restrictions.
Michelle Hazelwood is a partner at John Gaunt & Partners
John Gaunt & Partners is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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