Expanded outdoor hospitality has been a welcome addition across Bristol in response to the pandemic. It has supported local businesses and added more colour, vibrancy, and atmosphere to the streets. Many of us have enjoyed a meal or drink while sitting out in the city over the past couple of years. However, there are a number of national changes to how businesses can operate outdoors as we move beyond the pandemic.
Hospitality and the broader night time economy support the employment of a third of our workforce – more than 91,000 people. During the pandemic, there was an incredible response from the hospitality sector to adapt to changes, particularly those around outside dining, and our council rightly took a flexible approach to help support this.
We were able to do this because of legislation that was introduced by government which allowed councils to use temporary Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) to support outdoor hospitality, permitting structures and furniture to be set up in parking bays. Disappointingly, the government chose not to renew this legislation and it has now expired. Outdoor hospitality can still be facilitated but permissions will now need to be sought.
We understand how frustrating this is for many businesses, particularly at a time when the sector is being hit hard by inflation alongside the wider impact of the cost of living crisis. We want to support businesses to continue to operate outdoors where we can, and we want to ensure businesses are clear on what they need to do next.
On streets that have been pedestrianised or are covered by traffic orders — such as Princess Victoria Street, the Old City, Cotham Hill, and King Street — businesses with existing outside structures should apply for retrospective planning permission. If granted, then they can then apply for a structures licence and pavement licence to place furniture on the highway outside their premises. In these areas, any existing structures can remain while going through this process and no enforcement action will be taken during that time.
On all other streets, structures and furniture must be removed. Planning permission can still be applied for but we cannot legally allow existing structures to remain in the interim due to the change in national legislation set out above.
We support reclaiming road space for people, where we can. By making the policies around this more robust, we can ensure outdoor hospitality structures add value and are suitable for their surroundings, and that any structures or furniture in the road are safe and don’t impact accessibility.
Getting the relevant permissions can be a complex process as this may require approval from up to three separate regimes: Planning, Highways (for structures and pavement licences), and Licensing (for alcohol licenses). Communication with businesses has sought to set this out as simply as possible, but I recognise how confusing this can be for business owners who have so many other concerns, which is why we will be producing an overarching guidance document that explains the process clearly.
Thank you again to Bristol’s businesses for working with us on this. I encourage anyone who is unclear about what this means for them to get in touch with our business team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org