The streets of Oxford city centre are taking on a more Continental feel as Oxford City Council enables restaurants, pubs, bars and coffee shops to set up tables and chairs outside of their premises.
The new tables and chairs areas aim to support hospitality businesses that do not have sufficient space indoors to be able to open on a commercial basis whilst maintaining social distancing.
With the agreement of Oxfordshire County Council – the highways authority for Oxford – many of the areas will provide space in the road for tables and chairs. Where a section of the road is being used, traffic will be prohibited and pavements will be kept free for pedestrians to socially distance.
So far the initiative includes tables and chairs areas in Cornmarket Street and in the newly part-pedestrianised section of St Michael’s Street. The City Council is in discussion with city centre businesses to open more areas in the coming weeks, including one in Broad Street.
Separately, the City Council is also enabling hospitality businesses across Oxford to install tables and chairs on the pavement immediately outside their premises. This is only being considered where the pavement is wide enough to install tables and chairs, while continuing to enable pedestrians to maintain social distancing.
The City Council is working with more than 20 restaurants, pubs, bars and coffee shops as well as the County Council, representatives of the emergency services, and highways development and street cleaning colleagues at ODS, to install tables and chairs in Oxford’s streets over the coming weeks.
From 1 August the City and County Councils have made parking at Oxford’s five Park and Ride sites free for the month. This is in part to support hospitality businesses taking part in the Chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ initiative that offers a 50 per cent discount on food or non-alcoholic drinks (up to a maximum of £10 discount per diner) every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 3 and 31 August.
The City Council installed a new zone for tables and chairs in Cornmarket Street, outside The Plough at 38, in July. The area, which operates between 10am and 6pm, will initially be temporary until 4 October. However, this could be extended if it proves successful.
The tables and chairs area could also be physically expanded if more Cornmarket Street businesses apply to use it. A second zone, towards the south end of Cornmarket Street, could also be created.
No street furniture – for example benches or litter bins – has been removed to create the space for the tables and chairs zones.
An area for tables and chairs will be created outside 8 to 13 Broad Street, near The White Horse pub and Blackwell’s Bookshop. The famous bookshop plans to create an outside seating area for its café, while the pub will be able to open for the first time since lockdown started.
The White Horse, which plans to open on 7 August, is too small inside to operate commercially whilst maintaining social distancing without the possibility of using the external space. To create the area, the City Council secured permission from the County Council to move two disabled parking bays further along Broad Street to the west.
Separately, the City Council installed a rest area in Broad Street – with benches, bins and barriers – on 15 June to help with social distancing by encouraging people to stop and rest away from the busy thoroughfares.
Another zone for tables and chairs is also being considered outside the cafes in the western end of Broad Street. The City Council is encouraging hospitality businesses in the area to apply, and has already moved bike parking racks to the opposite side the road to create space for the area.
The City Council is also lobbying the County Council – whose decision it would be – to pedestrianise Broad Street. This would enable further areas for tables and chairs to be created to support businesses, while also having wider benefits for the city by creating Oxford’s first European-style plaza.
St Michael’s Street
The road closure, from the junction of Cornmarket Street to Society Café, started on 25 July and will be in operation every day between 10am and 6pm.
The road closure, which will be in operation initially until 3 September, provides outdoor seating space for The Plough at 38, The Nosebag, The Three Goats Heads, Mission Burrito and Society Café.
The two Councils also agreed to remove three bike racks outside Society Café and three outside Handle Bar Café to increase the available space. As the City Council has a protocol to replace any bike parking spaces that are removed, the racks will be re-located shortly in a nearby street.
Moveable planters, commissioned from RAW Workshop, are planned for outside Society Café and The Plough to protect the public and stop vehicles, from driving on the street.
The disabled parking bays in St Michael’s Street will not be affected by the changes, and temporary disabled ramps are being installed at points along the road to help people move from the pavement to the pedestrianised road.
The area, which will operate between 10am and 6pm, will initially be temporary until 3 September. However, as with the Cornmarket Street area, this could be extended if it proves successful.
The City Council plans to install planters around all these new seating areas to protect customers using it from vehicles. RAW Workshop, an Oxford-based social enterprise, are being commissioned to produce the planters.
More widely the City Council has invited restaurants, pubs and bars across Oxford to apply for permission to have tables and chairs on the pavement in front of their premises.
This will only be possible where the pavement is wide enough to accommodate the tables and chairs, and allow space for pedestrians to maintain social distancing.
So far the City Council – supported by the County Council – has helped Jericho Coffee Traders and The Grand Café to install tables and chairs on the pavement in High Street.
The councils are also working with businesses in Magdalen Street, Friars Entry and other locations around the city to install further pavement seating areas.
Changes to regulations
The City Council has been working on the tables and chairs initiative since June, and has been engaging with businesses on the proposals – including organising surveys to gauge the appetite for new areas – for several weeks.
The original plan was to use several strands of legislation to introduce the new zones and pavement seating areas, but the process was significantly simplified last week when the Government introduced the Business and Planning Act 2020, allowing temporary permission - now termed “Pavement Licences” to be granted for tables and chairs on pavements until September 2021. For more information see here
In June the City Council created a focus group, including people with disabilities and representing disability charities, to scrutinise changes to the city centre and make recommendations to improve accessibility.
When taking applications for tables and chairs zones into consideration, the City Council will ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are addressed, including preventing obstructions on the highway and ensuring disabled people can easily access the new zones.
Wider work to support businesses
The pedestrianisation is part of a wide range of work to support businesses in Oxford city centre through the coronavirus pandemic.
In June, the City Council introduced a one-way pedestrian flow system in Oxford city centre and the Cowley Road to help people return to the city centre safely.
Designated rest areas, including new seating in Broad Street, were also introduced to keep pedestrians moving in the city centre’s busy and narrow streets.
The City Council has also installed new bike parking at Park and Rides and will shortly introduce more in the city centre, and provided businesses with information and guidance about how to reopen safely.
The City Council is looking to make changes to sections of other city centre streets in the coming weeks to provide further space for outdoor tables and chairs.
The City Council surveyed businesses in Oxford in May to get their views on measures to help pedestrians and cyclists maintain social distancing once shops reopened. This found the highest levels of support for more secure cycle parking (92% in favour), road closures and safety measures outside schools (83%), new segregated cycle ways (81%) and new zones for outdoor tables and chairs (81%).
Meanwhile, the County Council has received Government funding to make improvements to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure across Oxfordshire.
“We need to back businesses and people’s livelihoods in the toughest economy we’ve known for years.
“The hospitality sector is a key part of the city centre’s economy and we want to support the industry to bounce back and turn a profit. Our support for outdoors, on-street tables and chairs is a practical way to help businesses serve more people while keeping them apart because of social distancing guidance.
Our aim is to create a city centre that people feel safe visiting and consciously want to enjoy, and increased pedestrianisation, fewer vehicles clogging up narrow medieval streets, and cleaner and livelier places are critical to achieving that aim.”
Councillor Tom Hayes, Deputy Leader, and Cabinet Member for Green Transport and Zero Carbon Oxford
“We’re absolutely delighted with the support from Oxford City Council at this time. They have part-pedestrianised St Michael’s Street to enable us to safely put out some lovely seating in front of Society Café. It’s wonderful to see the street come alive with cafe culture and people enjoying the unique spaces that this beautiful city has to offer.”
Adrian Campbell-Howard, Owner of Society Café Ltd in St Michael’s Street