At Belfast City Council’s Licensing Committee, elected members voted for a one-year extension of the free temporary licensing scheme, against the advice of council officers, who promoted the option of returning to a free temporary licensing scheme. five-year fixed licenses, with fees totaling £445 over the period. .
The scheme was introduced to help the hospitality sector during the pandemic as the council had yet to implement the 2016 legislation “due to lack of technical advice” from Stormont.
The temporary license meant that businesses could use the terrace cafe area while their license application was being determined, and statutory agencies were encouraged to take a very liberal stance when considering applications to allow the reopening of hotel businesses.
This has led to larger terrace café areas than would have been agreed under normal circumstances, as well as Stormont introducing parklets and closing roads for terrace café spaces.
There are currently 85 sidewalk cafes in Belfast with temporary licenses. All temporary licenses were due to expire this month.
A council officer’s report says. “A few licensed sidewalk cafes, particularly in the city centre, are now becoming a source of complaints from adjacent businesses and members of the public.
“The nature of these complaints relate to the size of the area used, the area affecting footfall and trade with adjacent businesses, furniture not removed at the end of trade and the impact on early morning deliveries.
“We also have reports that the council’s cleaning and waste management teams are struggling to put their vehicles in empty bins and clean the streets because furniture in pavement cafes is not removed at the time. end of trade.
“Additionally, the sidewalk is not cleaned and waste generated by customers using the area is not collected by the company. This contributes to ongoing cleanliness issues in the city.
The report goes on to propose a permanent license system and a return to the royalty structure. It says: “Given the circumstances under which the temporary scheme was introduced, the council has waived all fees associated with a sidewalk cafe application.
“In 2017 the council agreed that a fee should be charged for a sidewalk café license and determined that the grant application fee was £225.00, with an annual license fee of £55.00 £ for the following four years. No annual license fee is charged for the first year.
“It is proposed that, in implementing the sidewalk café scheme, we also introduce the associated fees agreed by the board in 2017.
“In doing so, this approach would be similar to that of several other councils. The financial implications of not introducing fees for five-year sidewalk cafe licenses will result in a loss of revenue of at least £37,825, just based on the current number of applications granted at the moment.
Councilors instead backed a Sinn Féin proposal to extend the temporary license for another year. Councilor Claire Canavan told the chamber: ‘I know the temporary process was put in place to help businesses on the road to recovery during the pandemic, but I think it’s still safe to say that it there are still many companies on this road.
“In fact, they have actually been delayed, because we are now in a cost of living crisis, and there are actually going to be businesses forced to close. I would question the timing of this – we are at a time when we should be seen as helping businesses.
She added: “We can look at it after that date, but in the meantime the council can consult with businesses on the permanent program and guidelines. So, when we come to look at it, most of the problems faced by businesses will hopefully have been resolved.
A council officer said: ‘The message through the pandemic was a very soft approach to getting out, and to be honest we didn’t take a strong enforcement line. With a permanent system, we would intensify this, to deal with those who were not authorized and those who were not compliant. The officer said licensed and unlicensed cafes were to blame for the cleanliness issues.