Oxford City Council has issued pavement licences to nearly 100 hospitality businesses allowing them to set up temporary outdoor seating areas for another year.
While restrictions on hospitality and other sectors ended in England from 19 July, pavement licences have been extended by a year and can now be in place until the end of September 2022.
So far, Oxford City Council has issued 93 licences to hospitality businesses, an almost ten-fold increase from the previous year.
Outdoor dining areas across the city, including Turl St, Walton St, King Edward St and North Parade Avenue, plus a number of individual areas on wider pavements reopened on 12 April, when the Government allowed businesses to trade after the coronavirus lockdown, but only to serve customers sitting outside.
The Business and Planning Act, which was passed in July 2020, introduced temporary provisions to fast-track a process to enable hospitality businesses to reopen after the coronavirus lockdown.
Over the last year, the City Council has been acting on behalf of many businesses and applying to the County Council to pedestrianise and part-pedestrianise streets across Oxford to create outdoor dining areas.
The City Council has facilitated more than £56m in grants to help Oxford’s businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, alongside a further £57.5m of rates relief.
In addition, the City Council created a funding pot to provide grants of up to £3,250 to enable businesses to recoup the costs incurred in establishing outdoor dining areas.
To date, £4,428,172 has been paid out in Additional Restrictions Grants, with a further £991,374.00 to be paid out by 31/3/22.
In total, £52,484,919 has been paid out in Business Grants.
During 2021/22, the Expanded Retail Discount will pay out £24,257,783.
Restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary permission to open seating areas on the public highway outside their premises, helping to offset the impact of losing indoor floor space due to social distancing requirements.
Many businesses have told the City Council that they could not have opened after the coronavirus lockdown if it were not for the City Council providing the additional seating area
Others have said that having outside tables and chairs has been the difference between them being able to operate commercially and stay open, and having to close and lay off staff.
Alan Backshall, Manager of the Three Goats Heads on St Michael’s Street, said:
“After the first lockdown, the council helped us get back up and running with a pilot project closing off St Michael’s Street to traffic.
“Within a month of the road being closed, I’d say we were getting over a thousand people per day along the street, which really increased our takings.
“Being able to have an outdoor seating area is like gold dust. There’s been a huge response and the atmosphere in the street has been buzzing.
“It has really transformed the place. The street’s been full and it’s been like having a little Havana.
“The street closure has been the best thing that could have happened. I hope it becomes a regular fixture.”
Pizza bar Bbona in Gloucester Street received the outside seating grant. Manager Andi Bershini said:
“Lockdown was very difficult. As an independent trader, we are not as well-known as the big chains, so we’ve really relied on our loyal customer base.
“When lockdown was first lifted, people still lacked the confidence to go out, so being able to offer customers outdoor seating made the difference between night and day.
“The weather was good and I think the outdoor area looks very pretty. People seem to be getting more used to the continental culture of eating outside. It’s really brought the business back to life.
“We’ve still not gone back to full capacity inside as we want to be as Covid-secure as possible. Having the council’s support has been such a help and we are very thankful for the support we got.”
“Oxford’s restaurants, cafes and pubs have faced serious challenges since March 2020 and we want to offer as much support as we can to ensure they recover and flourish. Outdoor seating throughout the city has not only helped hospitality traders to provide safe experiences for residents and tourists, it has also given the city a wonderful, continental feel.
“Before 2020, the Council used to license only a handful of premises each year but now we have a fast-track process that has proved extremely popular to date. We continue to work pro-actively with traders who are looking at an outdoor area for the first time to support their business.”
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader and Cabinet Member for Cabinet Member for Inclusive Growth, Economic Recovery, and Partnerships